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Dr. Gerald Bull: The High Altitude Research Project

Dr. Gerald Bull was like a figure in a spy novel, designing arms for some of the world's harshest regimes. With no shortage of possible enemies, he died at the hands of an unknown assassin. But the Canadian-born artillery expert was also a brilliant scientist with a dream: to launch a satellite with a giant gun.

There's something happening on the island of Barbados. Gerald Bull, now a professor at McGill University, heads up a new program called HARP -- the High Altitude Research Project. A huge gun, salvaged from a U.S. battleship, waits on a Barbados beach. Bull has designed a projectile called a Martlet for the gun's 400-millimetre barrel. CBC reporter Kingsley Brown is there as Bull prepares to fire the gun for the first time.
. After Bull joined the McGill faculty in 1961, he and a colleague drew up plans for HARP and approached the university for support. The U.S. Army supplied equipment and other support, and the Canadian government eventually funded the project as well.
. McGill already had two research stations on Barbados. It was an attractive location for HARP because of its unlimited fallout area over the ocean and its proximity to Cape Canaveral's radar-tracking systems.

. Barbados was happy to host HARP: it gave valuable work to over 60 of its most educated citizens; it provided much-needed foreign investment; and it had the potential to change the country's image from that of a Caribbean backwater to a player in the high-tech age.
. In 1968 Barbados issued a series of four postage stamps commemorating HARP.

. When HARP was still in the building stage, Canada successfully launched a satellite called the Alouette using a rocket.
. Bull's long-term goal for HARP was to create a low-cost method of launching small satellites into space. He calculated it could be done for one-fifth the cost of traditional methods.
. In 1966 Bull set a world record for shooting a Martlet 180 kilometres into the sky. The record would stand for more than 25 years.

. The Martlet was loaded into the gun encased in a four-piece wood sabot which fell away when the projectile left the barrel. The sabot kept the missile in place as it travelled through the 21-metre-long gun.
. Other HARP testing was conducted at a compound Bull had set up near Highwater, Qué. on the Vermont border.

. In 1967 the Canadian government stopped funding the project, citing concerns about the drawbacks of a gun-launch system. The U.S. Army dropped out soon after because of their growing focus on the war in Vietnam. In 1968 the Bronfman family of Montreal stepped in and Bull created the Space Research Corporation with their backing. The Bronfmans soon withdrew but by then Bull had enough money to run the company on his own.

. Bull resigned from McGill in 1969 but continued to work on HARP in Barbados and at his Highwater compound until 1971.
. Bull's Martlet missile was named for the footless bird which makes up part of the McGill crest.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC Newsmagazine
Broadcast Date: Jan. 30, 1963
Guest(s): Gerald Bull, General Clark
Host: Norman DePoe
Reporter: Kingsley Brown
Duration: 13:09

Last updated: February 7, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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