Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Timmins, Ballooning, the French and Lots of Hot Air...

Timmins, Ontario from the air.
It looks like the City of Timmins, Ontario has entered into an agreement with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the French Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES) to build, operate and maintain the infrastructure for a giant balloon launching base, which will support "at least one launch every two years."

At least that's the story as outlined in the June 15th, 2012 press release on the CSA website under the headline "Canada–France Collaborate on Balloon Launches: City of Timmins Selected as Launch Base."

But while the French benefits are explicitly defined as finding a launch site for their upcoming Polarized Instrument for Long-Wavelength Observations of the Tenuous ISM (PILOT) and a variety of other high altitude balloon missions discussed in the January 22nd, 2012 CNES "Call for Scientific Research Proposals using Balloons," the benefits to the CSA and Timmins are less well defined.

According to the CSA press release, the partnership will "provide Canadian scientists and engineers with a new platform to test technologies and advance space science." But according to Daniel Leveque, the CSA co-project manager for the program, the specifics of any Canadian experiments or contributions coming still need to be defined.

This high altitude weather balloon from the California Near Space Project crossed the United States and then the Atlantic Ocean before landing in the Mediterranean Sea in 2011.

In a phone conversation earlier today, Levesque explained that potential Canadian experiments and contributions will be discussed at an upcoming conference being scheduled for October 2012.

This new conference will be a follow-on to the April 2010 Workshop on Suborbital Platforms and Nanosatellites and will likely include most of the same participants. Similar conferences (with most of the same participants) were also held in 2007, 2008 and 2009 but Levesque is optimistic that an announcement of opportunity followed by several requests for proposals related to potential Canadian balloon experiments will be issued after this latest 2012 conference.

Steve MacLean.
Of course, Levesque also said the CSA's announced $10 million dollar contribution to the project is only to build the base and does not include the cost of any payloads.There also seems some ambiguity over the dates these funds are expected to be available for use.

According to CSA president Steve MacLean
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... 

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