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Flight to the Skies with CSA

VanWyn travelled to the Canadian Space Agency’s Stratospheric Launch Facility in Timmins, Ontario, for High-Altitude Balloon Launches and Science Experiments.

You can learn more about the facility at the CSA website:

http://www.asc-csa.gc.ca/eng/sciences/balloons/base.asp

We hope you enjoy this visual tour of our trip!

Day 1

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VanWyn travelled to the Canadian Space Agency’s Stratospheric Balloon Launch Facility to learn, participate, and support our community.




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The Timmins Balloon Launch Facility proudly shares the flag of CNES, the national space agency of France and a valued partner of stratospheric balloon launches in Canada.



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VanWyn Founder and Principal Erinn van Wynsberghe (right) mentored a Hamilton-region student, Krishna Nair (middle) in preparation for launching her own high-altitude balloon. Accompanying us was Steve Montminy, Technology Development Officer, of the CSA. Behind us is a payload bound for high-altitude flight.

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The craft pictured here is one of the payloads bound for the stratosphere, 27 km up. Various instruments for atmospheric science experiments were developed and prepare by the Canadian Space Agency, the French Space Agency (CNSE), and various Canadian Universities. The launch is scheduled for later in the evening.

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One of the control rooms, where the teams prepare to monitor an upcoming balloon launch.





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Small testing balloons are prepared for launch in advance of the main balloon, to assist with tracking winds and precipitation. 



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The team travels to the launch site, where the guide balloon has already been partially inflated. High-altitude zero-pressure balloon launches are scheduled for late night hours when winds are predicted to be lowest.  


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Erinn and Krishna discuss details of the upcoming balloon launch. 





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Up close to the first balloon, with just a few of the many crew members required for a safe and successful launch.




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The zero-pressure balloon is filled from the top, down. Transparent hoses can be seen in the middle and to the right. The hoses will be detached from the ground, so that when the balloon deploys it will take the hoses with it!

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A wider view of the balloon filling up with helium, and the gas tanks on the ground. 

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A guide balloon, which was launched much earlier in the day, helps the ground crew analyze wind patterns.




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A second balloon is filled. The main balloon which carries the payload will not have sufficiently expanded to have enough lifting power off the ground, so a second balloon is used essentially as a tow, to get the train started. The second balloon is detached higher up.

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Crew and VIPs wait at a safe distance as the launch counts down.






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The control-room crew carefully tracks the balloon as it lifts through the night sky.





Watch the balloon launch!

Day 2

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Early the next morning, the crew is STILL hard at work, carefully tracking the balloon from the control tower.


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The flight path is tracked across the region of Timmins as a blue line. The anticipated landing zone is marked at the end of the blue line, bottom right.

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The recovery team prepares to go to the landing site, via the CSA helicopter.



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Student Krisha prepares her own balloon launch, constructed as part of a major project at the Halton Waldorf School in Burlington, Ontario. Assisting her are CSA Systems Engineer, Sébastien Lafrance (left) and Krishna’s father Sunil (right).

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Sebastien instructs Krishna and family (including mother Maya and brother, Raam) in preparation for Krishna’s launch.


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A group of students are visiting the CSA launch facility from all over Northern Ontario. They attend a preparatory meeting.                        

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VanWyn and the Nair family were honoured to meet with CSA President, Sylvain Laporte, who offered excellent advice for aspiring astronauts and youth interested in STEM careers.

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Student Krishna Nair gives a detailed presentation of her high-altitude balloon school project, inspiring the dozens of students in attendance and impressing the crew of balloon experts!

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Krishna is thanked for her presentation with a gift from CSA President, Sylvain Laporte.


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After her presentation, Krishna and the crews of the CSA and CNES work hard to prepare Krishna’s balloon for flight.

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Meanwhile, the crowd of students, families, VIP guests, news reporters, and crews of both the CSA and CNES wait with great anticipation.


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Final preparations are made to Krishna’s flight instruments which includes video and picture cameras, trackers, GPS, and numerous instruments to take scientific measurements at high altitude.


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The payload container is sealed with lightweight tape. Every ounce and milligram of material is carefully chosen for minimal weight to reduce the burden on the lifting balloon and accurately anticipate the flight altitude and trajectory.

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The payload is attached to the balloon. Included in the “train” (rope line of various components from payload at bottom to balloon at top) is the parachute (orange object, right) which will guide the payload safely down to Earth after the balloon bursts at peak altitude.

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Krishna works out the deployment strategy with, Christian Lamarque, high-altitude balloon expert from the French Space Agency (CNES).


See Krishna’s own balloon get launched at the CSA facility!

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The team watches with delight as the balloon successfully flies skyward, including Krishna (far right) and CSA President, Sylvain Laporte (middle).

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The crew study the monitoring equipment closely to determine if the balloon is being tracked successfully.



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Guests and crew watch the flight path monitors nervously, as Krishna tracks the craft on a mobile phone via GPS signal. A few hours later, the craft is determined to have landed a few hours East, safely on dry land, in a forest. But recovering the payload will be a serious undertaking.

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Daylight is fading, so the recovery operation will take place in the morning.



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The entire operation celebrates together after a successful flight day.



Day 3

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The next morning, word has already spread of the successful student project, hosted by the Canadian Space Agency and mentored by VanWyn.

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The long drive begins to recover the payload, several hours East of the Timmins Launch Facility.

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Carefully following the GPS signal, the road to recovering the balloon payload ends here. The journey must continue on foot.

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The trek into the deep woods begins.


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The hike through the thick brush is challenging and slow-going.

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Two hours later, we are deep in the woods and far from civilization.

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After much back-tracking around the same general area of steep terrain, something catches our eye…


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Joy all around as we successfully find our payload, safely landed in a tree!

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With the payload and parachute safely cut down from the tree, we prepare for the long hike back to the car.

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As we turn around to head out, we hear something in the distance. Can you spot it?...

The CSA helicopter, on-route to searching for one of their balloons, stopped off to check on us! It was like a scene out of a movie!

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We were air-lifted out of the brush by the CSA flight recovery team!


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Thanks for the chopper ride back to the road!


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Special thanks to Deanna and Ed Pearce who served as our valuable guides and hosts, and permitted us to traipse through their back yard and woods.

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It was now time to open the payload and see what results our flight instruments had obtained…



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We scanned through the instrument data to find some excellent information about high-altitude temperature and pressure, our craft’s velocity and trajectory, and some amazing photos and videos!

Images from the camera aboard our balloon

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The camera was taking pictures from the moment we sealed the payload container. This was the last shot taken from the ground.

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Seconds later, the balloon was well on it’s way, as can be seen by Krishna and the crowd looking up at the balloon (the payload was still close to ground at that second!)

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A few seconds later, and the rate of ascent can truly be appreciated in this photo. The payload and camera are now high above the treeline.

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Within a minute of flight, the curvature of the Earth can clearly be distinguished.


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At just a minute of flight time, and the Timmins Airport and CSA Launch Facility are now pretty small. See if you can see the crowd watching!

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The payload sways so much in the wind that at some points, it swings up!

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We’ve reached the cloud line, a few kilometres up into the sky.

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Our craft has risen above where airplanes fly.

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The sky is definitely changing from blue to black…

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The ride back down was equally remarkable!



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