Canucks in Space

Up to now Canada’s space history is limited to a handful of astronauts, a few satellites, and two generations of robotic arms, but if all goes well in October, Canucks are finally going to be in the space race, eh?

Canada’s contender for the X-Prize – a $10 million award for the first civilian team to make two sub-orbital flights in a two week period – is scheduled to make its first test flight on Oct. 2. An old airport in rural Saskatchewan will provide the take off and landing venue for the launch.

The group behind the launch, the Canadian da Vinci Project Team (, has financial backing from, among others, Sun Microsystems of Canada, Hinz Automation, Waterloo Maple, Keystone Foam Works and, for some reason, the Golden Palace Internet Casino.

Don’t expect a dramatic blast-off for this project. To achieve an altitude of 100 kilometres with two passengers, the team will use the world’s largest reusable helium balloon to ascend the first 24.4 km, after which point a Flash Gordon-looking rocket will take the crew the rest of the way.

After breaking the 100 km mark and holding it for a few a few seconds, the craft will deploy a cone-shape "ballute" to help deflect heat and cushion the landing of the craft, and a parachute to slow the descent. The whole operation is expected to take less than two hours.

There is no definition as to where the earth’s atmosphere ends and space begins – for example, the International Space Station is currently at an orbit of some 400 km. The 100 km mark is an arbitrary figure, and many believe that the real boundary is closer to 100 miles, or about 160 km. Still, for the purposes of aeronautics 100 km is acceptable to most groups – from that height you’re in the darkness of space, you experience weightlessness, and the people look even smaller than ants.

The Canadian launch will be the third test by a group seeking the X-Prize. SpaceShipOne, a project funded by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen, is scheduled to make its second test launch on Sept. 29. That ship uses a jet plane as a booster to reach a height of about 40 kilometres before blasting off to near-space, and then flies back to earth like a conventional glider. On its first attempt, SpaceShipOne cleared the 100 km barrier by just over 100 metres.

For more information on the X-Prize and the different teams working to make civilian space travel a reality, visit

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