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Location of debris from Russian rocket unknown

The launch of the European Space agency's Sentinel 5 Precursor satellite, aboard the Russian Rokot carrier rocket, took place as scheduled from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia the morning of Oct. 13, despite Premier Peter Taptuna's calls for a halt to the launch.

Premier Peter Taptuna called for a halt to the launch of the Russian Rokot, carrying the European Space agency's Sentinel 5 Precursor satellite, but liftoff came nevertheless from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia the morning of Oct. 13. photo courtesy of European Space Agency

Officials have not identified where debris from the rocket's re-entry landed.

Spokesperson for Public Safety Canada Andrew Gowing said re-entry was confirmed.

"The precise impact location, however, could not accurately be determined with the data available," he said.

Gowing could not say how Nunavut's environmental concerns would be addressed.

The first stage of debris was expected to shed over the Barents Sea, north of Norway, while the second stage was expected to shed over the North Water Polynya in Baffin Bay, according to Taptuna's statement. The polynya, known as Pikialasorsuaq, is a critical Arctic habitat between Ellesmere Island in Canada and Greenland.

"We condemn Russia’s actions and demand that this launch be halted," Premier Taptuna said Oct. 6.

"We can’t afford to have unknown amounts of hydrazine fuel land in the largest polynya in the northern hemisphere. People living near this area would be rightfully concerned as the gap between the two islands is around 92 km at its widest point and 32 km at its narrowest."

Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Brianne Maxwell confirmed that "Canadian officials spoke directly with officials from Russia and the European Space Agency to express concerns regarding potential environmental effects of launches on the sensitive Arctic ecosystem."

A previous launch took place June 4, 2016.

"The GOC (Government Operations Centre) also has no indication that the June 4, 2016 launch landed in Canadian territory," said Gowing.

Eva Aariak, one of three Inuit who make up the Pikialasorsuaq Commission set up by the Inuit Circumpolar Council, had previously told Nunavut News that environmental concerns are valid regardless of whether debris lands in Canadian waters.

"This polynya is one of the richest birthing places, an ecologically rich area of open water. The animals do not identify, 'Oh, today I'm going to go on the Greenland side or the Canadian side.' It’s their habitat. That's where they give birth to their young. It's not just the sea mammals, either, that use that area," she said. "It's the polar bears. It's the migration path for birds. And it's a source of food for the Northern people."

Ironically, according to Canada's Government Operations Centre, the Rokot's payload was a Sentinel 5 Precursor satellite that carries an instrument to measure air quality, ozone, pollution and aerosols in Earth's atmosphere as part of the European Space Agency's Copernicus program dedicated to Earth science and observation.

"A similar launch is scheduled for Dec. 18, however, the Government Operations Centre has not received the exact coordinates for that launch," said Gowing.