SOAR spacecraft on Airbus carrier. Credit S3.

Will North Bay Become a Canadian Spaceport?

In discussing last week’s budget, Jay Aspin, Conservative MP for Nipissing-Timiskaming and Chair of the Parliamentary Space Caucus, told Bay Today that “we’re going to be launching satellites out of North Bay.”

The full quote was “we’re supporting space commercialization which is $30 million over four years to support the satellite communications sector which is what we’re all about. We’re going to be launching satellites out of North Bay”.

Aspin is referencing the surprise additional $30 million funding in the budget, starting next year, to support businesses who want to commercialize space technologies through the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES) program.

So will North Bay become Canada’s first commercial spaceport? Perhaps someday, but that could be many years away.

What Aspin was referring to with respect to satellite launches from North Bay was an existing agreement between European based Swiss Space Systems (S3) and Canadore College. S3 is developing an unmanned suborbital spaceplane, called SOAR, for small satellite deployment. SOAR will be able to launch satellites up to 250 kg in size.

The agreement announced last June was for S3 to perform mock-up test flights of its SOAR suborbital shuttle from a helicopter in North Bay in the first phase of the agreement.
The mock-up test flights were successfully completed last fall.

The second phase, slated for later this year, will see more test flights but this time with a fully equipped scale model of the SOAR suborbital shuttle and will include drop tests.

Following these tests S3 plans to launch a separate Zero Gravity service with flights in North Bay and other locations globally in 2016. According to S3 the “ZeroG flights make it possible to experience true weightlessness, allowing bodies and materials to float free of the earth’s gravitational pull. The S3 parabolic flights are completely safe, and supervised by space professionals and a crew of qualified personnel. All flights last less than 2 hours, during which 15 parabolas are performed, each providing an experience of weightlessness for 20 to 25 seconds.”

S3 will announce the Zero-G flight dates for North Bay at this years World Space Week event in North Bay during the week of October 4-10.

Beyond that, a spokesperson for S3 told SpaceRef that “In the future, we may expand our operations and maybe operate satellite launches from North Bay.”

Additionally they said “we have a good relationship with North Bay and Canadore College and plan to build a long term relationship with them. As we develop an aircraft carried suborbital shuttle, we are not limited to a unique ground infrastructure / launching pad like other vertical launchers. S3 will already operate in various locations, including from locations like Canary Islands or Kennedy Space Center. North Bay could be another interesting location in the future, but right now we are focusing on ZeroG flights and test flights, with the precious help of our partners from North Bay.”
So while the door is open to future satellite launches from North Bay, much depends on how S3’s business plan takes shape.

Updated Tueaday, April 28, 2015 at 10:50 a.m. EDT.

About Marc Boucher

Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactive LLC. Boucher has 20+ years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 30 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.

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