Private Spaceflight Group Chooses Canadian Launch Site
After separation from its booster, the Canadian Arrow cabin is oriented to provide the best window view for the passengers in this artist's interpretation.
Credit: CANADIAN ARROW.

The road to space for a Canadian spaceship is a bit shorter now that its rocketeer team has found a suitable launch site.

The Ontario-based firm PLANETSPACE/Canadian Arrow announced today that it has chosen a military base near Cape Rich, just off Georgian Bay, as the proving ground for its manned suborbital spacecraft.

Located on the Canadian Forces Meaford Range and Testing Area, the site will host engine test fires, escape system shakedowns and ultimately the first flights for the Canadian Arrow launch vehicle, project officials told SPACE.com.

"It's about 70 square kilometers (44 square miles), so it's a huge area," said Canadian Arrow leader Geoff Sheerin of the test site. "There's a potential that we could fly there a long time into the future."

Sheerin said Meaford Range officials have agreed to allow Canadian Arrow use of the base's facilities on a need basis for upcoming tests, though the project will need to receive authorization from the Canadian transportation agency Transport Canada before any test flights can occur. Engine firings atop a capture test stand should aid in that process, but must wait until the completion of an environmental review for Canadian Arrow's planned test site near Barrie, Ontario, he added.

"You need to make sure that you're not going to do any harm," Sheerin said, adding that the environmental study could be completed in the next 30 days.

The Meaford Range, and Cape Rich especially, are prime spots for private space launch because of its restricted airspace and waterways stretching 2.5 miles out into Georgian Bay.

"Because it's at a point, it's similar to being out on a barge," Sheerin said.

PLANETSPACE/Canadian Arrow hopes to begin manned launch operations by 2007 and has recruited a team of test astronauts to pilot the spacecraft. The initial tests at Meaford will focus on the launch system's escape tower, which is designed to pull the manned capsule free from its booster in the event of an emergency.

"The escape system is something we want to get to maximum reliability," Sheerin said. "We'll fly it about four or five times."

Evolving past the X Prize

Originally a contender in the Ansari X Prize competition to build and launch reusable, manned spacecraft on suborbital flights, Sheerin's Canadian Arrow team initially planned to launch its three-seater rocket from a barge on one of the Great Lakes.

The plan called for the suborbital space capsule and its V2 rocket-based booster to parachute back into the water where recovery crews would retrieve them. Other potential launch sites near Port Stanley on Lake Erie and the Sarnia region near Lake Michigan would have required a barge before any tests could take place, Sheerin said.

"We haven't completely discarded the barge idea," Sheerin said. "But [Meaford] saves us a lot of time in preparations."

Canadian Arrow is the second private space firm to choose a launch site in Canada. The Toronto-based da Vinci Project, also an X Prize team, selected the town of Kindersley in Saskatchewan to stage its balloon-launched suborbital spaceflights in 2003.

Meanwhile, aerospace veteran Burt Rutan and his firm Scaled Composites launched the manned spacecraft SpaceShipOne on three suborbital flights staged from Mojave, California in 2004. Other efforts with launch sites in hand include the space tourism firm AERA Corp., which plans to use Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as the starting point for its Altairis passenger spacecraft, and Rocketplane Limited, Inc., which hopes to set its Oklahoma Spaceport at Burns Flat.

"It really is a milestone for the Canadian Arrow project," PLANETSPACE chairman Chirinjeev Kathuria told SPACE.com. "I'm very excited."