Stratoprobe project

Submitted by Steve Ricketts

In 1975, Steve Ricketts was hired as a student by the Atmospheric Environment Services (AES) team to work on an international project to study the stratospheric ozone. The project, led by the University of Toronto, was a collaboration between ECCC and academia with investments from multiple sources. The project involved flying a large (300-foot diameter) balloon at 100,000 feet, carrying a payload of instruments and experiments to better understand the impacts of certain greenhouse gases on the ozone layer.

After weeks of preparation, the team headed to Yorkton, SK, to set up the balloon for the first launch. The balloon was very fragile so surface winds had to be near zero. The balloon was tethered to a small trailer and slowly filled with helium. The payload was clamped to a modified truck down the runway with a long lead to the balloon. The first launch didn’t take off as planned as the payload only rose 30 m before sinking back to the tarmac.

After some re-calculations, the team was back in the field and ready to re-launch. At ground level, the helium filled only a small pocket of the balloon, as the balloon rose, the helium would expand in the reduced atmospheric pressure, and at altitude, the fully inflated balloon was 300 feet in diameter!

Large balloon filling with helium to prepare for launch of stratoprobe.
Large balloon filling with helium to prepare for launch of stratoprobe.

Two summers chasing balloons as a student in Saskatchewan led to a wonderful 35-year career for Steve at Environment and Climate Change Canada as a Meteorologist.

This groundbreaking work led to a better understanding of the impact of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) on the ozone layer and eventually resulted in legislation to ban their use.

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