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New season of balloon launches start in Timmins

It's the first summer that the scientists are using the newly expanded facility at the airport
The Nimbus 4 is launched at the Timmins airport on Aug. 23, 2022. The French space agency and Canada Space Agency are back in Timmins for more launches this summer.

A team of scientists is back in Timmins to launch new experiments. 

This morning (Aug. 8), the seventh campaign at the Timmins Stratospheric Balloon Base launched with the first of four zero-pressure balloons being released from the facility at the Victor M. Power Airport

Mission lead Phillippe Vincent said today's flight is the 29th out of Timmins since the partnership between the French space agency and Canadian Space Agency started 11 years ago. In 2022, the agencies signed another 10-year contract to operate from the base. 

The 2023 launch window started on July 27 and ends on Aug. 26.

"We work with launch windows because we cannot plan perfectly the weather. The last flight window is Aug. 17 til Aug. 26. They’re all overlapping and when we have flight windows open then we run several simulations and we decide which one is the best," he said. 

Each of the zero-pressure balloons carries an experiment. 

"Most of them are … around atmospheric and chemical science looking for greenhouse gases measurements and aerosols. There’s a variety of particle counters and spectrometers. We will also fly two telescopes. One is a coronagraph, it studies the sun, and the other one is a high-contrast telescope looking for stars. Other than that, we have star and debris trackers and also radiation measurement instruments,” he explained.

While today's balloon was let go during the day at the request of the scientists, most are released overnight.

Nearly 80 scientists from 11 countries are part of this year's campaign. In the past, Vincent said five to six countries were usually represented. Throughout the campaign, a total of about 180 people will be town.

RELATED: Look up! Scientific balloon launches underway in Timmins
SEE: Watch one of the final balloon launches of the season

This summer also marks the official opening of the expanded facility. 

The base is tucked away near the Ministry of Natural Resources building at the airport in a secured area.

Since the 2022 campaign ended, a new hall was built at the site. Other improvements were also made, such as adding an elevator to an existing building and relocating a garage and small trailer. 

From what Vincent has seen, he said the scientists are happy with the improvements. 

"We’re really, really glad that we came up with a new building in less than a year. It’s been quite a journey, I would say, contracting out, reviewing all the requirements and also dealing with City of Timmins and actual engineering firms and contractor. It was great. We are already using it and it allows (us) to perform, I would say, better integrations because we have hoisting equipment that allows (us) to do calibration and pointing outside of the building, which is a real improvement from what we had with the single building in the past," he said. 

The changes open the door to other partnerships. 

Other agencies and Canadian startups have reached out, he said. 

"It’s really at the beginning stage of their projects, so they have a lot to look for in terms of authorization with Transport Canada and so on, but we’ve been contacted. We don’t know if we’re going to come up to an agreement with them but there’s possibly a chance in the future other people than the French space agency might come and use our facility,” he said. 

— TimminsToday