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Look up! Scientific balloon launches underway in Timmins

A recently approved expansion at the base could pave the way for partnerships with new agencies such as NASA

Experiments being conducted in Timmins are helping inform scientists around the world about global warming, climate change and more.

Another campaign is underway at the Timmins stratospheric base that operates as a partnership between the Canadian Space Agency and le Centre National d'Études Spatiales (France's space agency). The 2022 zero-pressure balloon launches started Tuesday, Aug. 9.

Each balloon carries European and Canadian instruments documenting different features in the atmosphere, testing new technology or conducting scientific experiments. 

There are also various other small experiments, including a Canadian star tracker, said mission lead Philippe Vincent. 

"A telescope from Italy will look at stars and there are some radiation detectors also for high-energy particles such as protons and gamma rays,” he explained

The data being collected will help inform scientific research on global warming and climate change-related things.

"For the other types of payloads, it’s sometimes technology demonstration so it’s for a small company to test their system in a space-related or similar environment so they could reduce their risks when they develop for a space station in the future,” he said. 

For this year's launches, about 80 scientists from Canada and Europe will be at the secured facility that's tucked away near the Ministry of Natural Resources building at the Victor M. Power Airport. Including VIPS and executive members from both agencies, the campaigns will attract a total of about 180 people, said Vincent.

Science Timmins is also helping give the scientists information they need to know for the balloon launches.

“We try to bring back to the Timmins economy when we have campaigns and we need to perform daily weather-sounding balloons to know the winds, the speed direction. It helps doing our simulations for the flights themself and we contracted Science Timmins, so they are the ones performing our (weather) balloon launches," he said. 

Because of the collaboration, about 30 to 40 youth from Science Timmins' summer camps will get to visit the base next week. By talking to the people working on the payloads, Vincent said they hope to give the youth a taste for science.

A growing partnership

This year marks the 10th anniversary of CSA's collaboration with the French space agency. The 2022 campaign is the fifth launch under the agreement.

The two organizations, said Vincent, are working to renew their contract for another 10 years. 

Recently approved renovations at the facility will allow scientists to have more room to work on the payloads and potentially attract new partners.

When the Timmins stratospheric balloon base opened, Vincent said it was built to the requirements needed at the time. That business case has changed. 

A $4.1-million contract was recently awarded to CGV Builders to build a new hall at the site and add an elevator to an existing building. A garage and small trailer on the site have already been relocated. The federal government will cover the cost of the expansion through a new lease with the City of Timmins

"We are receiving more teams that provide instruments instead of the entire gondolas, so we welcome much more scientists ... we were lacking space," he said, explaining the new building will have wider doors. 

"Experiments are sometimes bigger and bigger, we flew several telescopes so the new installations will provide them all the features that they require to calibrate tests prior to flight and we’ll also gain a bit of space so we can have even more scientists."

Vincent said there have been discussions with other agencies, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), to possibly use the site in the future, but there's nothing official yet.

“For now, it’s to cover our collaboration with the French space agency, but the expansion and the modification that we’re doing could possibly attract other ballooning operators,” he said.

The CSA has also done an internal analysis on what its contribution to Timmins is during campaigns.

“We estimated that the benefit in terms of economy for Timmins is around $1 million per campaign because people come, they have the accommodations, car rentals, services. It’s something we try to give back to the community as well, and hiring also local contractors,” he said.

The balloon launches are typically released early in the morning. The Timmins Stratospheric Balloon Base Facebook page keeps people informed of launches and delays.

— TimminsToday