At 10:34am on the 16th March 2017, Sandringham successfully launched a High Altitude Balloon into near-space. This was the culmination of over 6 months of work by over 60 students split into teams that dealt with the programming, fabrication of the payload, tracking and radio operation. Permission was sought from the Civil Aviation Authority and we nervously kept an eye on atmospheric conditions and wind direction to determine a launch time and date.
The whole school gathered on the field to watch the launch and we were delighted to be joined by Wheatfields Infants and Junior schools.
Attaching the payload and filling the weather balloon with the correct amount of helium gas was a nervous moment, but the HAB was launched successfully and quickly rose above the clouds, travelling at 6 metres per second. The pursuit team loaded their radio tracking gear into the minibus and set off to track the path of the balloon.
The Raspberry Pi computer in the payload began to stream images via radio transmission back to earth, roughly every minute. You can see the spectacular examples attached to this news story and all the images we received are at this link. Images were shown in Sandringham school hall as well as in Wheatfields and everyone was amazed at being able to see the curvature of the Earth and the darkness of space.
We nervously awaited the balloon to burst due to the pressure of the helium in the thinning atmosphere. The balloon finally started descending on a parachute at 30,631 metres (100,000 feet). This was over Colchester and was tracking Eastwards at 46 metres per second! You can see the track of the balloon on the HabHub website here.
Unfortunately the wind conditions and amount of helium in the balloon caused it to drift out into the North Sea, around 2-3km off the coast of Felixstowe. Although we were disappointed not to recover the payload that would have had video and other sensor readings, we are hopeful of eventual recovery when it washes onshore. Local radio amateurs continued to track the payload until the batteries ran out after ten hours. We have enlisted the local media to help in the recovery process! (article here). And St Albans media also wrote about the adventure, with the article here.
This was a perfect example of an ambitious project that involved challenging students in computer science, D&T, maths, physics, geography and really exercised their teamwork, resilience and problem solving skills. Thanks to all the students involved and Mr Allday and Mr Hassett for leading and preparing for this mission!