Up, Up and Away in a Stratospheric Balloon: Timmins new payload

Ready for Lift Off

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A calm evening was the backdrop for a successful inaugural launch of a 400,000 cubic-metre balloon at the Timmins Stratospheric Balloon base on September 8, 2014. With a payload of 1963kg of research equipment from France the launch was a collaborative effort by the Canadian Space Agency and Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales of France.

Back when a Stratospheric Balloon Base was officially opened at Timmins Airport nearly two years ago, it was anticipated the leading edge facility would give the local economy a bit of a lift. It appears the results have risen well above expectations - literally.

Last summer, Timmins residents marvelled at the sight of the first of several launchings of giant modern-day balloons into the skies where a myriad of technology applications and experiments were conducted for eventual use on satellites in long-duration space missions.

Through collaboration between the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and France's Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES), Timmins was chosen for the construction of a $5-million launch facility because of its favourable latitude, wind and weather conditions and optimal on-site infrastructure. The balloon launch base with its cluster of new buildings at the end of the airport's runway houses scientific equipment as well as an administrative centre.

Preparing for Launch

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On a runway tarmac at Timmins Airport, crews use auxiliary balloons to hold the payload before the launch of a test flight. Stratospheric balloon flights are designed to give scientists a new platform to advance space science for up to 40 times less than the cost of a satellite or a launcher.

"The CSA and CNES helped to pay for the structures at the Base and now the City of Timmins owns the structures", Joe Torlone, the City's CAO, told guests at the annual general meeting of the Timmins Economic Development Corporation last fall. "We now lease these facilities to the scientists and agencies when they come for a launch."  Torlone adds they may one day soon "shop this space station around the world", as other space agencies and academic institutions seek to have their own experiments loaded aboard future launch campaigns in Timmins.

Made out of ultra-thin plastic and filled with helium which can stretch into a gigantic upside-down "teardrop" shape, the balloons create a stunning visual against the northern horizon as they expand to a height more than half as tall as the CN Tower. Equipped with several gondolas suspended on the flight chain, these remotely-controlled atmospheric balloons can carry science, astronomy, atmospheric chemistry, weather forecasting and technological payloads at altitudes reaching into the stratosphere.

FedNor played a significant role in helping to establish the Timmins Stratospheric Balloon Base. An investment of $1.2 million supported the construction of the base and the purchase of specialized equipment for the facility. It is expected that the international partnership project between Canada and France will send up to 150 scientists and engineers to Timmins for five or more months each year for a 10-year period. During each of these campaigns, approximately 8 to 10 launches take place and it is estimated that the CSA and CNES spend approximately $1 million locally on goods and services.

Factor in the additional economic benefits of having hundreds of scientists living and working in the city for weeks at a time and you have yet another boost to the local service and hospitality industry. The Timmins Stratospheric Balloon Base is setting a new standard for research and development in Northern Ontario. At the same time, it is also enhancing the economic outlook and opportunity for new business development and job growth in a city where the sky's the limit.

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