Canadian town residents ask startup SpaceRyde to stop loud rocket engine tests

rocket prototype in silver on the left, canadian flag on the wall in behind, and a person leaning on equipment on the right
Sohrab Haghighat, CEO of SpaceRyde, during the grand opening of SpaceRyde headquarters in Concord, Ontario, Canada, on June 21, 2022. (Image credit: Cole Burston/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

A Canadian town of 13,000 people wants a rocket startup to stop testing its engines there.

Residents of Trent Hills, an Ontario town about two hours east of Toronto, are asking the privately funded SpaceRyde rocket company to stop engine testing in the region, and the municipality has sought legal advice to help bring about that outcome, according to local reports.

"The sound can be heard for many miles and startles anyone in the nearby vicinity. Horses may bolt, and pets are distressed. Wildlife is disrupted," alleges a petition (opens in new tab) n Change.org that had been signed by more than 700 people as of Tuesday (Nov. 8). 

"People's safety is at risk as the startling noise may cause anyone horseback riding, bicycling, motorcycling, working on a ladder or rooftop to momentarily lose concentration as they process the alarming sound," adds the petition.

SpaceRyde's head of marketing, Jen Scholten, declined to comment on the petition and the reports when asked by Space.com on Monday (Nov. 7). "A lot has happened since its posting," Scholten said, but did not offer further specifics.

Related: Nova Scotia spaceport project aims to launch clean-tech rockets

In early October, the municipality of Trent Hills referred the situation to legal counsel, asking "the site owner and occupier [for] a commitment to voluntarily cease rocket engine testing at the site," local newspaper Trent Hills Now (opens in new tab) wrote. 

The municipality alleges SpaceRyde did not disclose its plans for the engine testing in its planning application for putting a facility on the site, which is near two main county roads. The allegations have not been proven in court, and SpaceRyde has said in reports (opens in new tab) that the rocket engine testing was covered under an accessory use of the property.

An employee next to a hybrid rocket during the grand opening of SpaceRyde headquarters in Concord, Ontario, Canada, on June 21, 2022.  (Image credit: Cole Burston/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

In a comment to Trent Hills Now (opens in new tab) in September, SpaceRyde co-founder Sohrab Haghighat noted that the engine-testing noise of 100 decibels is brief, infrequent and equivalent to a large truck briefly revving its engine on a road.

SpaceRyde always notifies local residents before tests occur, Haghighat said, and added that one local man told him the noise "is the sound of progress. It's the sound of Canada one day going to space (with) its own rocket."

SpaceRyde opened a 25,000-square-foot facility (2,300 square meters) in Concord in June and invited media as well as Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. The privately funded company has about 30 employees, according to media reports, and was founded in 2018. It is aiming to create a three-stage rocket that would fly to the stratosphere aboard a balloon, before firing its engines.

The town's dispute with SpaceRyde is taking place while Canada rapidly expands its rocket industry. Canada's government is considering a spaceport in Nova Scotia that aims to start suborbital launches next year. Several companies in the Toronto region are ramping up manufacturing for rocketry following years or decades of making parts for U.S. companies.

The small space industry in Canada is also growing as larger projects take hold in the community, such as the Canadian Space Agency's commitment to put astronauts and hardware on moon missions like NASA's Artemis 2, which aims to send people on a trip around the moon in 2024.

Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller (opens in new tab)?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace