© CNES/Arnaud Deramecourt
Release of a zero-pressure stratospheric balloon in Sweden.
The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and France's space agency, CNES (Centre national d'tudes spatiales) announced that they will jointly launch research balloons into the stratosphere from Timmins, Ontario, starting in 2013.
The purpose of the balloon launches is to place research equipment up to altitudes of 42 km to study the Earth's atmosphere and environment.
These launches will be give Canadian scientists and engineers a platform to test out new technologies for other space missions. The CSA is investing an estimated $10 million over the next ten years in the launch base and flight campaigns.
"The balloon launch initiative is a coup for Canada's space community," notes Steve MacLean, President of the Canadian Space Agency. "Balloon missions are cost-effective and can be prepared more quickly and more frequently, making them ideal for training university students. Offering hands-on learning opportunities helps Canada retain the next generation of space scientists and engineers, and keeps our country innovative and competitive."
This announcement is the first joint program announced under a newly signed agreement between the CSA and CNES. The agreement is meant to generate scientific collaboration between the two countries. "This collaboration is a very fortunate one for the French space agency," notes Yannick d'Escatha, President of CNES. "CNES has been searching for a mid-latitude launch site for science missions using large stratospheric balloons, especially for the PILOT mission. The selection of Timmins, Ontario, is excellent news. Moreover, our various collaborations with our friends at the Canadian Space Agency have always been very fruitful," adds d'Escatha.
The agreement will provide Canadian academia and industry access to CNES's worldwide network of regular and frequent stratospheric balloon flight opportunities. Canada will also benefit from the vast experience France has developed in the field, with more than 3,500 balloon launches in over 40 years.
The Timmins site was chosen based on rigorous selection criteria - the latitude, wind and weather conditions, the low population density in key areas surrounding the city and optimal on-site infrastructure meet the stringent national and international security regulations governing balloon launch and recovery systems. Timmins also has the advantage of offering ideal launch conditions year-round. "I'm excited at the news of this development. To have the Canadian Space Agency and the Centre national d'tudes spatiales operate from Timmins will help diversify our local economy, create employment, and provide youth with new career opportunities," says Tom Laughren, Mayor of Timmins.
View of the launch of a stratospheric balloon from Aire Sur L'Adour base at Landes, France. Taken from the french TV.
High-altitude balloons can be as tall as the Eiffel Tower (324 metres) and are able to carry up to 1.5 tons of equipment into the stratosphere (about 42 km in altitude--well above the flight paths of aircraft, yet much lower than satellites). As well as exploring the Earth's atmosphere, these balloons can carry instrumentation to look outwards into the Universe for astronomy research. Balloons rely on winds and buoyancy to take flight, require no engine or fuel, and are fully recovered after each flight, making them an environmentally responsible tool for scientific research and technology development.
CNES will conduct the first test launch from Timmins in 2013. In the coming months, the CSA will invite the Canadian space community to fly experiments on the annual CSA-CNES flight campaigns beginning in 2014.
As the host country, the CSA will operate the launch base in Timmins and coordinate launch campaigns in Canada with CNES. The City of Timmins will build, operate and maintain the infrastructure of the launch base, supporting at least one launch every two years. The balloon initiative also involves NAV CANADA, the private sector civil air navigation services provider, and collaboration between several Government of Canada departments. Transport Canada is responsible for flight authorizations and Industry Canada will manage the telecommunications frequencies required for each balloon flight. Environment Canada performed the climatological studies to select the launch site. Public Works and Government Services Canada negotiated the lease agreement between the CSA and Timmins and performed the required environmental audit.