Europe’s satel­lite plan has Ottawa con­cerned

Space agency’s launch may put toxic fuel in Arc­tic wa­ters


Ottawa has told the Euro­pean Space Agency it’s un­happy about plans to launch a satel­lite that would drop a rocket stage likely to con­tain highly toxic fuel in some of the most eco­log­i­cally pro­duc­tive wa­ters of the Cana­dian Arc­tic.

“Canada is in the process of en­gag­ing the Euro­pean Space Agency to ex­press con­cerns re­gard­ing po­ten­tial en­vi­ron­men­tal ef­fects of launches on the sen­si­tive Arc­tic ecosys­tem,” Bri­anne Maxwell, a spokesper­son for Global Af­fairs Canada, said Thurs­day.

The com­ment came af­ter the govern­ment of Nu­navut added its voice to protests over the launch.

“The prime min­is­ter has been in con­tact with the premier’s of­fice on this is­sue,” Maxwell said.

Ter­ri­to­rial of­fi­cials raised con­cerns with the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice this week af­ter Premier Peter Tap­tuna com­plained about the launch, which is sched­uled for Fri­day.

“We are call­ing on Canada and Den­mark to take swift ac­tion at the in­ter­na­tional level to dis­suade th­ese ac­tiv­i­ties and move for­ward with pro­tect­ing this area lo­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally,” Tap­tuna said on Oct. 6, the day af­ter Rus­sia no­ti­fied Canada of its in­ten­tions.

The Euro­pean Space Agency — of which Canada is an af­fil­i­ate mem­ber — plans to launch the Sen­tinel 5P satel­lite, an en­vi­ron­men­tal probe de­signed to mon­i­tor trace gases in the at­mos­phere. A sec­ond launch of a sim­i­lar satel­lite is planned for 2018.

Both are to be launched from Rus­sia us­ing Soviet-era rock­ets fu­elled by hy­drazine. Hy­drazine is so toxic that al­most ev­ery space pro­gram in the world, in­clud­ing Rus­sia’s, has moved away from it.

The sec­ond stage of the rocket, con­tain­ing up to a tonne of un­burned hy­drazine, is ex­pected to splash down in water between Green­land and Baf­fin Is­land.

That area falls within Canada’s ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zone and is in the ju­ris­dic­tion of the Arc­tic Wa­ters Pol­lu­tion Preven­tion Act. Inuit com­mu­ni­ties in Canada and Green­land rou­tinely hunt an­i­mals that de­pend on the North Water Polynya.

Global Af­fairs Canada has pre­vi­ously said that Canada “con­tin­ues to ex­press con­cerns to Rus­sia” over po­ten­tial en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts.

The Euro­peans main­tain all the toxic fuel burns up on re-en­try.

Aca­demic re­search points out there has been no study of what hap­pens to fuel re­leased over marine ecosys­tems. As well, pre­vi­ous stud­ies in Rus­sian launch zones sug­gest some fuel does reach the water’s sur­face.

Nu­navut ac­knowl­edges the risk is low, but ar­gues it shouldn’t be there at all.

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