Lift off Cartwright? Ideal spot for space cannon says Ontario entrepreneur

Houston might have some competition when it comes to space related ventures. An Ontario entrepreneur is planning a space cannon launch site near the small southern Labrador community of Cartwright later this year.

"It will be Canada's only commercial space launch operation," the company behind the proposal, Starfire Scientific, said in its report to the provincial government.

The site is ideal because of its large landing area, CEO Richard Graf told CBC's Labrador Morning. "It's good for orbital flights, we can fly around the equator and we can fly over the North Pole."

Right now the proposed area for what the provincial government terms a "mobile artillery cannon" would be about 8.5 kilometres south of Cartwright and is under environmental review.

"It's no more dangerous than any other firearm," said Graf. "it just happens to be considerably larger."

So far the cannons have only been tested horizontally. The testing in Cartwright would give Graf the chance to fire vertically, with the goal of creating a commercial sub-orbital flight service.

Initially the company would do sub-orbital launches, which means they would come back to earth, and Graf said they can "determine with a high degree of precision exactly where the vehicles are going to come down again."

Eventually, with improvements to the system, Graf said the cannon could launch as high as 100 kilometres. 

It's for science

"Primarily we're interested in launching for scientific research," Graf said. "Eventually we're looking at launching small satellites."

"That'll let people do almost all the same kind of research you can do with a satellite except it just happens over a shorter period of time," Graf said.

"We can launch payload packages that can come down with, say a parachute and such, and they can examine the atmosphere and other things that are going on."

Space race

The cannon itself is about 45 feet long and is towed around with a pickup.

The technology is largely based on the 1960s High Altitude Research Project (HARP) — a joint project between the Canadian and American departments of defence which explored ways to launch into orbit without using rockets.

Graf, who has been working on the project since 1990, said he was inspired after reading an obituary for Gerald Bull, who headed up the HARP project. 

"This was a technology that I could actually construct myself and I actually fell in love with it," Graf said. "I've been working since that time to try and get a launch system operational."

The public can weigh in on the project until April 28 and the government will then make a decision on whether to allow the test firing to go ahead this summer.