The Churchill Rocket Range at Fort Churchill has been an integral part of Canadian rocket research within the sub – orbital atmosphere. Located just east of Churchill, the site has been used since the 1950’s for multiple launches of various rockets such as the Nike-Orion and Black Brant. Closed today, the range has gone through many transitions over the years.
Black Brant rocket at the Churchill rocket Range. Courtesy Natural Habitat
Churchill’s unique proximity in the “western hemisphere” coupled with its wide open range firing northwards made it optimal not only for incredible polar bear viewing but for rocket launching as well. Test rockets are still being discovered today in the vast, wide open tundra.
1. – The rocket range was built in 1954 by the Canadian Army to study long distance communication capabilities and the affects the aurora borealis has on them.
2. – The site was closed in 1955 then reopened and refurbished and expanded in 1956 for the International Geophysical Year (IGY) in 1957. The site was then closed again in December 1958 when the IGY ended.
3. – In 1959 the U. S. Army reopened the rocket range as a sounding rocket test station. It was used to test rockets which evolved into the Black Brant utilizing new solid fuel propellant. Fire destroyed much of the facility in 1960 and 12 additional test launches of the black Brant were scheduled at NASA’s Wallops Island in 1961-62 while the Churchill site was rebuilt. In 1970 the U. S. Army ended operations at the site.
Churchill rocket range from the air. Steve Selden photo.
4. – In 1970 the Churchill site was acquired by the Canadian Research Council to contribute to the Canadian Upper Atmosphere Research Program. The range was used intermittently during the 70’s and 80’s and shut down by 1990.
5. – Rumors surfaced in the mid 1990’s when Akjuit Aerospace announced development of the site aat a $300 million price tag was imminent. A Russian company named STC Complex signed a deal with Akjuit to launch polar – orbiting rockets carrying loads on surplus, re-purposed ICBM’s as part of the START treaty negotiations. In May 1998 Akjuit Aerospace closed down operations from financing problems as well as the collapse of the space exploration market in 2000.
A closer look at the Churchill Rocket Range today. Steve Selden photo.
Today the Churchill Rocket Range stands as a reminder of the frenetic past in Churchill as well as what might have been had Akjuit launched the ambitious new venture at the site. The buildings near the Churchill Northern Studies Center seem frozen in time, suspended in anticipation of what the future could have been.
Churchill’s famous Rocket Greens at the Churchill Northern Studies Center. CNSC photo.
In October 2017, Churchill Northern Studies Center took delivery of a 25-foot sea container, specially designed to grow robust leafy greens. The idea of growing green vegetables in -60 C conditions was a stretch and many have thought it could not be done. Well, this year the indoor garden has harvested over 10,000 units of leafy greens. The name Rocket Greens is derived from its location at the old Churchill Research Rocket Range adjacent to CSNC. Rocket Greens sells to the residents of Churchill, as well as some restaurants and grocery stores, via subscription service. Subscribers receive their weekly “Launch Box” full of Rocket Greens, such as spinach, cilantro, basil, kale, lettuce, parsley, and more! So far the business and the produce have been “out of this world”!
The Growcer shipping container repurposed as a hydroponic garden in Churchill. Carley Basler photo.
Churchill’s Boreal Gardens was a pioneer in attempting to grow local vegetables in the hard to access village on the Hudson Bay. While this was a novel attempt, the operation never quite made it to a scale that could make a dent in the economic distribution costs of providing vegetables to Churchillians in need of help.
Carley Basler is changing this dynamic with deliveries of fresh veggies to homes in town. Basler’s venture, Rocket Greens, is managed through the Churchill Northern Studies and is the first full-scale vegetable distribution system in Churchill and people are excited about the future of this new process. Rocket Greens derives its name from being located next to the Churchill Northern Studies Center on the grounds of the former rocket testing range to the east.
“It’s fresh food, fresher than probably anything that Churchill has ever experienced,” Basler said.
Carley Basler, system manager of the Growcer system at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, works the hydroponic garden.= at the CSNC. Warren Kay/CBC photo.
Fresh produce in Churchill has always been in short supply and at high prices due to the secluded nature of the town. Now after nearly a year of no freight train service from the south resulting from track damage from washouts, people are suffering nutritionally and economically.
This new approach is the brainchild of Growcer, an independent hydroponic systems company from the south. They currently produce these storage container sized units set up for the immediate growth and harvesting of vegetables via the streamlined hydroponic method they have developed.
With winter winding down, and the windchill of –50 C outside subsiding, Basler tends her hydroponic garden in a computer-controlled climate. Large plants of kale, spinach, arugula, and lettuce bloom from the tubular channels of water.
“What we are doing is growing about 400 to 450 units of produce that we can harvest weekly and make available in our community,” said Basler, currently the system manager for the operation under the CNSC.
In addition to her weekly vegetable subscriber program, Basler is supplying two grocery stores with product that is lowering prices to nearly half the cost of shipped in produce. This has been a breath of fresh air for the townspeople who have been relying on government food subsidies just to get by.
Hydroponic commercial viability in the north has been attempted before with little or no success. Growcer is designed to become profitable by allowing growers to start off small and gradually add units as they “grow”. Pun intended. Containers cost $210,000 per unit and are ready to go upon delivery requiring only electrical and water connections.
Each unit potentially will turn a profit of between $30,000 and $40,000 a year in most situations. These units have the ability to relieve reliance on good being shipped from the south at exorbitant costs via rail or air.
This self-contained local operation has the ability to relieve the reliance on these methods. Developing a system that can grow rooted vegetables like potatoes is on the table to be developed by Growcer.
“It’s available weekly regardless of rail service or air service or weather,” Basler said.
“It’s a lush green garden in the dead of winter, so that’s pretty unique.”
Aurora season is going strong and the northern lights have been amazing as usual. These shots by Alex De Vries – Magnifico in Churchill capture the incredible scenery juxtaposed with the scintillating aurora borealis overhead! Alex’s Discover Churchill images are the most amazing we have seen over the last few northern lights seasons! We are sure there will be more in the next month or so from the northern lights mecca! Travelers from Natural Habitat Adventures have been awed with the incredible light show above Churchill this season. Enjoy!
Opportunities to live and work in Churchill for the science and nature minded are available right now at the Churchill Northern Studies Center! Short term volunteer positions are available for northern lights season during January and February. If you are interested contact them here: email@example.com
The CNSC is also looking for an Assistant Director..here’s the link for all the info on the position: https://churchillscience.ca/employment-opportunities.cfm
The CSNC is at the far reaches of the road heading out through the Churchill Wildlife Management Area and out to the old Churchill rocket range. What a place to spend a couple of months this winter or possibly a longer stint as Assistant Director!