Rocket to fall in Canada

Another Russian rocket stage likely to be holding highly toxic fuel is slated to splash down in environmentally sensitive waters of the Canadian Arctic on Wednesday.

Documents on the website of the European Space Agency say the Cold-War-era missile repurposed for satellites is to lift off from a Russian launching pad. It will drop its second stage into Baffin Bay, outside Canada's territorial waters, but within ocean it claims to regulate and control.

The launch vessel, a former SS-19 intercontinental ballistic missile, is powered by hydrazine — a fuel so toxic and carcinogenic that almost every space program in the world, including Russia's, no longer uses it.

The spent rocket stage is expected to contain up to a tonne of unused hydrazine.

It is expected to fall into the North Water Polynya, one of the most productive and biodiverse areas of the Arctic and heavily used by Inuit hunters. The waters are considered so important to mammals such as walrus and whales that Inuit from Canada and Greenland seek to manage it as a protected area.

Eleven such splashdowns have taken place over the last 15 years, said Michael Byers, a professor of international law at the University of British Columbia.

Although the rocket is Russian, the launch is a commercial service paid for by the European Space Agency.

"The ESA prides itself on being the most environmentally friendly space agency in the world," said Byers.

"One of the ironies here is that the satellite is a cutting-edge climate-change monitoring satellite. It's of central importance for environmental monitoring."

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