Cape Canaveral's got competition.
Cape Breton is going to enter the space race.
The Toronto Star has learned that Nova Scotia has signed a "team agreement" to provide 300 acres of land — and perhaps even some funding — for a massive orbital launch facility that will involve industry giants and could eventually be on scale with huge NASA operations.
"We're basically building a private manned space program for Canada," says Chicago's Dr. Chirinjeev Kathuria, chairman of the PlanetSpace firm that lit the fuse for this deal.
"The facility will see orbital flights, similar to the Kennedy Space Center."
Nova Scotia, which confirmed the agreement late yesterday, could not be happier.
Like New Mexico, which is making a huge investment in a spaceport for commercial use, it envisions virtually unlimited economic spinoffs as private enterprise goes to space.
"This is a huge opportunity for the province," says Mark James, business development executive, Defence and Aerospace, for Nova Scotia Business Inc. — a development agency that promotes economic growth in the province.
Cape Breton is on roughly the same latitude as the ex-Soviet Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. This relatively northerly position would normally weight against the location of a spaceport in Cape Breton, since the farther a rocket is from the equator the more fuel it takes to overcome the Earth's pull and reach orbit with a given mass: The Kennedy Space Center in Florida or the French/European Centre Spatial Guyanais in French Guiana have decided advantages. Cape Breton's advantages lie in the island's location on the eastern seaboard of North America, allowing launches directly to the International Space Station but ensuring that rockets, launched in easterly directions so as not to work against the Earth's rotation, would crash if they crashed in the safely uninhabited Atlantic Ocean.
I'll be watching this. I'm mildly disappointed that it couldn't be located in PEI's Kings County if only because of the likely sociological impacts of a spaceport there, as the enlightening discussion at james_nicoll suggests.
UPDATE (2:35, 22 August 2006) : A commenter explains the advantages of equatorial locations for space launches better than I did:
"The reason for launching from the equator is that the Earth's rotation gives you a starting speed of 1038 mph (if you are launching Eastward). That translates into needing less fuel to reach orbital speed. Because Cape Breton is nearer the Earth's axis of rotation its speed is less, about 734 mph."