Royal Helium can’t say which of the three North American space launch outfits will be using its helium, but it’s either Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, left, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, right, or NASA, centre. Images and photos via Blue Origin, NASA, SpaceX

 

SASKATOON – On a day when NASA was supposed to launch its first Artemis rocket, restarting its moon program, Royal Helium Ltd. of Saskatoon had its own space-related announcement to make. In short order, helium from Alberta and Saskatchewan will soon be used by a North American company to launch its rockets into space.

The company announced on Aug. 29 that it has entered into a long-term agreement with a major North American space launch company for the supply of helium. Initial deliveries under the supply agreement will commence in 2023.

Royal Helium president and CEO Andrew Davidson said in a release, “We would like to thank our new partner for their substantial commitment to Royal Helium and Royal’s low carbon helium production programs. Royal aims to be a leading, greener source of helium for the aerospace, high tech, medical, and manufacturing industries worldwide.”

Speaking to Pipeline Online on Aug. 29, Davidson could not reveal who the client is, other than to say it was North American. That, in turn, limits the possibilities to Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, or NASA. All three have been ramping up launch activities, with hundreds of new satellites from SpaceX and Blue Origin, and NASA intending on going back to the moon in short order.

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Processing facilities coming soon

Royal also announced that with the engineering of its initial processing facilities largely complete. Supply and construction contracts are currently being awarded. The company will be constructing two initial facilities, the first at Steveville, Alberta, and the second at Climax, Saskatchewan. The combined throughput capacity of the plants will be 20,000 mcf/day (20 million cubic feet per day gas input).

While the company has drilled seven wells in Saskatchewan to date, and purchased three additional wells in Alberta when it bought Imperial Helium, it does not yet have any active helium production. It won’t have any until those processing facilities are brought online in 2023.

Davidson said that this contract will account for 40 to 50 per cent of those initial helium production numbers.

It’s a huge relief to get a contract like this, and Davidson said, “It also opens up a bunch of angles for how to finance those facilities. Now, it’s a project that we have a resource support on it shortly, and a sales contract.”

It took about six months to work out the contract, but landing a space launch company goes a long way in proving out the company’s business model. While rocketry is often mentioned by helium explorers as a possible market, actually landing a contract is another thing entirely. And Davidson says there’s demand.

“We understand it’s the first contract that this group has entered into for helium supply that is not with an industrial gas major. It’s the first time they’ve dipped down into the producer market, to secure volumes. So it’s a major step for us. It was a major step for them, as well, which is why it took so long.

Independent Well Servicing worked on Royal Helium’s Climax-4 well, which was test-fracked, in the summer of 2021. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

“The contract does not specify a maximum, and their needs for helium are extreme. So if we’re able to send them more, to this customer, they will take as much as we can send them under the terms of this contract, which are very, very beneficial to us,” Davidson said.

In rocketry, helium is used as a counterbalance and purge gas, as it won’t ignite or react. “As fuels expended, helium comes in,” he said.

The company had to choose a facility to build first, and the Steveville, Alberta, processing facility will be that first one, followed by Climax’s. That means Royal’s initial supply of helium will originate from Alberta, but that will soon be joined by Saskatchewan helium.

“Saskatchewan is now in the space exploration business. We’re supplying we’re supplying critical parts that will the ships can’t leave the atmosphere without,” Davidson said.

 

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