Nova Scotia

Tiny N.S. space agency to create painting kilometres above Earth's surface

The Annapolis Royal Space Agency will launch its fourth weather balloon into space on Saturday in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley. This time, it will create a painting that will hang in a local gallery.

School-based group will launch its fourth weather balloon into space on Saturday

The group's 2018 project rose 31 kilometres above the surface of the Earth before the balloon popped and the equipment fell to the ground. (Annapolis Royal Space Agency/Facebook)

They are already members of what is probably the world's tiniest space agency.

And they're hoping that on Saturday, they'll be able to lay claim to the title of world's first space artists.

The students, staff and community members who form the Annapolis Royal Space Agency plan to launch a weather balloon into space on Saturday that will create a painting while soaring high above the planet. From launch to grounding, the flight will take about three hours.

"We looked into it and NASA has only brought up oil paintings to see how they behave, but they've never actually done an art project on any of their missions," said project co-ordinator Derick Smith. "So, it's kind of exciting to have a first that way."

Smith is the physics and art teacher at Annapolis West Education Centre in Annapolis Royal, N.S., where five students and a few community members have been working for the last month and a half to get ready for the launch.

The weather balloon will lift a Styrofoam box carrying cameras and instruments that measure temperature, speed and pressure. A second box will contain a canvas and a tiny balloon filled with paint. As the small balloon expands in space, it will eventually pop, releasing the paint onto the canvas.

Once the large weather balloon pops, the gear will plummet back toward Earth — "quite a tumultuous flight," said Smith — until there's enough atmosphere for a parachute to open and guide a gentler descent to the surface.

"We're hoping that throughout that whole process we'll have some unique piece of artwork," said Smith.

A member of the 2019 team works on the project next to some of the test paintings. (Annapolis Royal Space Agency/Facebook)

Already, the painting has a spot reserved on a gallery wall. It will be included in the To the Moon and Back exhibit at the ARTsPlace gallery in Annapolis Royal, which opens on Sunday.

This year's launch, called Chick IV — named after a beloved educational assistant at the school, Chick Caldwell — will also include a small, 3D-printed figure of Annapolis Royal's town crier, Peter Crofton Davies, who Smith said has been a strong supporter of the project.

This is the space agency's fourth balloon launch. Some previous launches have been more successful than others.

Members of the 2018 team prepare to launch the balloon. (Annapolis Royal Space Agency/Facebook)

One year, the equipment landed in the ocean off Mahone Bay. Another year, it landed in a clearcut and, since the GPS had stopped working, it took a month to find it.

Last year, after rising 31 kilometres above the Earth, the equipment landed in a tree in a family's backyard in LaHave.

"A big white van shows up and a bunch of people spill out and ask you if they can retrieve their space balloon in the backyard," recalled Smith. "That's probably the only time that that family will have ever had that question asked of them. But they were just as excited as we were."

From launch to grounding, the flight takes about three hours. The 2018 balloon can be seen in the mirror attached to the equipment. (Annapolis Royal Space Agency/Facebook)

This year, the team is aiming to have the balloon land about 30 kilometres away, somewhere around West Dalhousie Road in the Annapolis Valley.

Smith said the project teaches students about "real-life problem solving."

"You have to overcome these challenges that just get thrown at you, which is a great lesson for the students."

The camera captures the moment when the balloon explodes in space during the 2018 flight. (Annapolis Royal Space Agency/YouTube)

One of those students, Finn Hafting, said since he joined the space agency four years ago, he's also learned about weather patterns, computer programming, coding and building circuits, not to mention simple teamwork.

Hafting, who is graduating from the school this year and plans to pursue engineering at Western University in London, Ont., said he's a little on edge about Saturday's launch.

"I'm nervous because anything can go wrong, really. But it's going to be fun to see," he said.


Frances Willick is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. Please contact her with feedback, story ideas or tips at


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?