Monday, June 30, 2014

Canadore College Testing New European Space Plane Design

          by Brian Orlotti

European based Swiss Space Systems (S3) has announced a partnership with the City of North Bay, Ontario and the Aviation Technology campus at Canadore College to perform testing of a suborbital space plane mock-up this fall.

As outlined in the June 26th, S3 press release "S3 Will Initiate mock-up test flights of its SOAR suborbital shuttle from a helicopter in Canada," the tests will centre around a mock-up of the SOAR space plane, a reusable suborbital rocket-powered vehicle designed be launched from an Airbus A300 carrier aircraft and deploy micro and nano-satellites up to 250 kg. SOAR will be capable of both autonomous and crewed flight.

S3 was founded in Payerne, Switzerland in 2012, and now has subsidiaries at NASA's Kennedy Space Centre and in Washington, DC. The company currently has 50 employees drawn from across industry, academia, and the military. S3 is building an impressive global network of partners and sponsors including Breitling, Thales Alenia Space, Dassault Aviation, SONACA (a Belgian aerospace firm with a wing panel-making plant in Mirabel, Quebec), Space Florida, and Kuznetsov UEC. S3's technical advisors include the European Space Agency (ESA) and Bauman Moscow State Technical University.

S3's budget up to its projected first satellite launch in 2017 is roughly $300Mln CDN. Starting with satellite launches, S3 plans to expand into other markets including suborbital science experiments and global suborbital cargo delivery.

The Jack Garland Airport in North Bay, Ontario is one of only fifteen airports in Canada with a 10,000 foot runway. The airport is home to Canadian Forces Base North Bay, serves as a North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) base and also houses Canadore College's aviation campus. Photo c/o Wikipedia

Beginning this fall and continuing to mid-2015, the tests will be conducted from North Bay's Jack Garland Airport (YYB) which is located in what S3 considers a “highly interesting zone” due to its geography and large flight corridors. In the first phase of tests, the small-scale shuttle mock-up will be towed by a helicopter with a cable. In the second phase, it will be released from a helicopter at an altitude of 5,000 meters, which will enable testing of the shuttle's flight systems and aerodynamics. Throughout testing, S3 will receive technical and operational support from both Jack Garland Airport and Canadore.

Jay Aspin. Photo c/o
In a June 27th, 2014 CBC Radio Morning North interview, City of North Bay Economic Development Officer Steve MacArthur said that the partnership with S3 came about through the efforts of the federal Conservative MP for Nipissing-Timiskaming, Jay Aspin.

In his role as Vice-Chair of the Parliamentary Aerospace Caucus, Aspin helped organize the November 2013 North Bay Aerospace Forum, which was attended by many of the world's aerospace heavyweights, including Boeing, Bombardier, Dassault, Lockheed Martin, and Pratt & Whitney. At this forum, Aspin introduced Steve MacArthur to Dassault executives. Dassault had been considering CFB Goose Bay in Goose Bay, Labrador for the SOAR tests, but feared bureaucratic foot-dragging from the Ministry of National Defense. Eventually, North Bay's civilian-controlled airport, forward-thinking government and large air corridors won the day.

The partnership with S3 is part of Aspin's larger plans to develop a North Bay Aerospace Centre of Excellence (ACE) along the same lines as the Aerospace Cluster currently being developed at Downsview Airport in Toronto, Ont. North Bay is already home to a sizable aerospace sector centered around Jack Garland Airport which includes Canadore College's Aviation Campus, Voyageur Airways and a Bombardier Aerospace assembly and flight testing facility for CL-415 water bombers. Aspin has publicly stated that expanding North Bay's aerospace sector and infrastructure is a key priority.

Participants at the November 2013 North Bay Aerospace Forum included Canadore College Dean of Aviation, Business and Liberal Studies Martin Galvin; Federal Industry Minister James Moore; Canadore College President George Burton; Canadore College Vice-President of Academic Dr. Marguerite Donohue and Professor Joe Hansford, from the Canadore College School of Aviation. Photo c/o Industry Canada.

In the July 27th, 2013 Northern Ontario Business article "MP seeks to grow North Bay's aerospace sector," Aspin said that a North Bay aerospace cluster doesn't have to compete with a Toronto one; they could complement each other. Aspin envisions North Bay carving out a niche as a provider of aerospace training and ancillary services, with some manufacturing mixed in. To this end, Aspin is working with Canadore College's Aviation Campus to expand its training and mechanical programs as well looking into expanding a nearby industrial park that hosts several mining supply and fabrication firms.

Brian Orlotti.
S3 and North Bay's collaboration is an encouraging sign for the prospects of the newspace industry and for aerospace as a whole. Once, Northern Ontario played a role in space exploration, as a training ground for NASA's Apollo astronauts.

Perhaps once again it can be a stepping stone to space.

Brian Orlotti is a Toronto-based IT professional and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

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