The only site in Spanish territory from which stratospheric balloons were launched is the Virgen del Camino airport, located 6 kilometres NE of the city of Leon, in the province of same name, part of the Castilla y Leon community.
This is an aerodrome managed by the Army of the Air, which operates the military base of the same name. Since 1995, according to the air regulations as being an airfield used jointly by an air base and an airport, it was forced to be a military airfield open to civilian traffic.
In early 90's it had little commercial activity, so taking also account of the stability of the winds in the region, it was choosen by the balloon division of the French space agency CNES to launch stratospheric balloons. While there was already an agreement for assistance signed by the French agency and their local counterparts of INTA to help in recovering the payloads of balloons launched from the Italian base in Trapani in Sicily, it was ammended to allow this activity to take place at León, beginning in 1994.
The flights took place in the broad open space adjacent to the main runway of the air station usually during the months of March or November. In his flight, the balloons moved eastward, over several provinces in northern Spain being recovered after six or seven hours of flight.
During the term of the agreement between the years 1994 and 1999 a total of 26 balloons were launched, some of them almost 100,000 m3 of volume. During these flights, it has been possible to include Spanish payloads too, as is the case with a spectrometer called ASSOS developed entirely by INTA and transported aboard one of these balloons in 1998.
A new start
During near 15 years the site was not used again for this activity, but in 2010, Zero To Infinity a private company developing technologies to enable cost-efficient access to near-space with the goal to perform experiments in the fields of Earth/Space observation, Atmospheric science, Drop testing, Technology demonstration, made an agreement with the Istar Group company from Pagosa Springs, United States to perform balloon launches at the airport.
The main effort of the company is the InBloon project, a system to safely elevate humans to near-space, above 99.5% of the mass of the atmosphere, using a stratospheric balloon and a panoramic pressurized gondola hanging of it. The craft will have two pilots and up to 3 passengers or scientists.
In the frame work of this late project two balloon launches were performed in the Virgen del Camino airport in 2012, as part of the intense balloon activity expected for the site in the future.
Table of balloons launched from Virgen del Camino Airport