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The land of bark canoes & tamarack toboggans is Canada's rocket launch capital!

Churchill (Manitoba)

Lying on the western shores of Hudson Bay, about 1000 km north of Winnipeg, Churchill, Manitoba is one of the many cities in Canada with a significant (almost 40%) Aboriginal population. It is made up predominantly of Chippewa and Swampy Cree. Historically, these peoples would set up temporary villages in and around the site now occupied by the city. Churchill is known as the "Land of Nanuk" (the polar bear), and residents of the city still occasionally see polar bears walking their streets. They also share the community with beluga whales - which feed and calve in the harbour during the summer - seals, caribou and rare migrating birds. It is a beautiful area surrounded by clean water, unspoiled land and fresh air, and yet visitors are often drawn here because of the sky; at night the Aurora Borealis is spectacular.

Churchill offers another advantage with respect to the heavens; its northern location makes it an ideal place from which to launch low earth orbit satellites and scientific instruments. In fact, between 1957 and 1985 Churchill was home to the Rocket Research Range, a project jointly funded by Canada's National Research Council and the National Aviation and Space Administration (NASA) in the United States. For more than 25 years the rocket range was used over 3,500 times to launch research and meteorological equipment using sounding rockets.

Sounding rockets are used to carry out short-term experiments at high (but not orbital) altitudes. The rockets get high enough to escape most of the vibration effect of the Earth; they operate in what is called a microgravity environment. They are launched along an arc-shaped trajectory, which usually allows the rocket to remain in the microgravity environment anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes as it reaches the top of its trajectory; this is usually the point at which its payload experiments are carried out.

While the Rocket Range closed in 1985, there have been a number of projects proposed for the site. One of them is Project Skywalker, a proposed commercial sub-orbital Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) that will be used to carry researchers to an altitude of at least 100km. Although no new projects have been approved for the site as yet, Churchill may soon once again help us in our understanding of our planet and the space beyond it.

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Kingston, Ontario, K7L 3N6, Canada

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