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4, 3, 2, 1...Blast Off!


Scientific payloads were launched on Black Brant rockets from Nova Scotia in 1970 and 1972 to study solar eclipses. (NRC)

Canada decided not to develop orbital launch capabilities but rather to concentrate on scientific and communications satellites. Nevertheless, the Black Brant (660114, 910011*) series of sounding rockets provided an inexpensive method to place apparatus in the upper atmosphere for short periods. Built by Bristol Aerospace from the late 1950s, Black Brants came in twelve different models with one to three stages and ranging in length from 2 to 19.5 metres depending on the maximum altitude desired and the mass of the packages to be launched.

In the 1960s, Black Brants competed with the three super-guns designed by McGill University physicist, Dr Gerald Bull (1928-1990). Referred to as HARP (High Altitude Research Program), the tremendous G-forces exerted on payloads fired from the HARP guns made design of instruments particularly difficult. The much lower load stresses, though not insignificant, exerted by a Black Brant meant it was chosen for most scientific launches. A Black Brant launch facility was established near Fort Churchill, Manitoba, functioning from 1956 to 1984. A model of the launch facility may be seen near the Museum's Black Brant exhibit. Redevelopment of the site was attempted in the 1990s but was eventually abandoned.

A very rare occurrence - two solar eclipses visible from the same area within a few years - provided a special opportunity to study the ionosphere. The Museum's Nike launcher (860150) was one of five used to launch a series of Black Brants for ionospheric observations of the 1970 and 1972 solar eclipses from East Quoddy, Nova Scotia. Observing two similar events from the same site provided Canadian atmospheric scientists a very rare opportunity.

* The numbers in brackets are the accession numbers of artifacts held by the Museum.