Churchill’s rocket plans grounded

Plans to turn a rocket range at Churchill into a commercial satellite launch site appear to be grounded.

Akjuit Aerospace Inc., the company behind the SpacePort Canada project, is reported to be laying off employees because of financial problems.

Officials from Akjuit did not return calls.

Akjuit was started in the early 1990s to turn a former rocket research range into a private company to meet a growing demand for launching small satellites for communications and remote sensing.

The company raised more than $8.5 million from Churchill residents, its technical team and other investors in Manitoba and Canada. But it needed to raise a total of $250 million to finish construction and get the site rolling.

Akjuit launched its first rocket on April 28.

The project had been seen by many as a way to keep the town of Churchill viable.

Optimistic outlook

But the president of the Hudson Bay Port Company said he doesn’t think the problems with the project are permanent.

Alan Johnson has lived in Churchill all his life and has worked at the port for 30 years, first for Canada Ports Corporation and now for Omnitrax, the American company that bought the rail line to Churchill and port facilities.

Johnson said he thinks another company will buy the site if Akjuit can’t make a go of it.

He said the port wasn’t relying on traffic from Akjuit.

Johnson has been busy overseeing the infrastructure work at the port. Omnitrax has been dredging, installing a new dust control system and modifying equipment to handle hopper cars.

He expects the port to open in early to mid-July. So far, two cruise ships and two fuel tankers are anticipated.

“We believe there will be grain shipped as well, but at this point, we have nothing listed yet.”

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