Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A made-in-Canada launch vehicle?

It seems the folks at the Canadian Space Agency (and others, but more on this in a moment) are suggesting that we should develop our own indigenous rocket for space launches. It's an interesting idea, and not as far out as one might think (we've been making first-rate sounding rockets for decades, so an orbital launch vehicle is not out of the question). There are a couple of rather interesting tidbits buried in the story, though. Consider this:
Shortt pointed out that sub-orbital launches used to take place at Churchill, and that site could be used for orbital launches.
Well, Churchill could indeed be used for orbital launches, though it's not really well-suited to the more conventional sort of launches, because it's a long way from the equator. Ideally, you want to launch from as close to the equator as possible (think Cape Canaveral, Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, or the EU's facility in French Guiana) so as to take maximum advantage of the Earth's rotation and thus reduce the amount of fuel needed to reach orbital velocity. However, Churchill would be a decent launch site to put satellites in polar orbit... which is precisely the kind of orbit favoured for spy satellites. Of course, there are other uses for polar orbits, but consider this point from the Free Press story:
Canada has the technological capacity to build its own rocket to launch small satellites, officials and documents have revealed, highlighting a top priority for future research at the Defence Department as well as something that's being studied at the Canadian Space Agency.
My bold, of course. And under Harper, this is the only way we're likely to see the development of space launch technology in this country, I fear.

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