My ‘Beat Felix!’ mission diary – Launch tomorrow!

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Hadfield’s launch is confirmed for Saturday and everyone is excited! The Jet Stream is passing far to the South of the UK making this Saturday a very good time for the team to launch their final high altitude probe, Hadfield (their second and final attempt to Beat Felix). It looks like Hadfield may land between Telford and Shrewsbury so the chase will be short.

The weather forecast looks perfect with the Met Office forecasting light cloud and very little wind (apart from a few minor gusts).
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The team are quietly hopeful that the third time will be the one. Wish us luck!

My ‘Beat Felix!’ mission diary – Armstrong recovered!

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Armstrong was recovered from a field in Lawnhead, Staffordshire by farmer, Robert Cartmail. The team contacted a number of local farms with a description of Armstrong and a map of where it may have landed. The probe was found in a field of cattle and the inquisitive cows had given it a gentle nibble and a lick before losing interest and leaving it where they had found it.
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The team cleaned it all up and cut into it to retrieve the flight computer. Though the batteries were thoroughly depleted the computer still functions perfectly well and can be used on future flights. The team are very happy that it has been found and that the payload survived the flight undamaged.
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My ‘Beat Felix!’ mission diary – Armstrong launch report

The team has had some amazing support on the back of the launch of Gagarin (their training flight). The organisers of Science Week UK, Adventurer/presenter Dallas Campbell, Valerie Vaz (MP for Walsall South), the Rt Hon David Willetts (Minister for Science and Universities), British Astronaut Major Timothy Peake, the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency have all congratulated the team on their work so far and wished them well for the launches of Armstrong and Hadfield.

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The weather was not on our side for launch with possible heavy showers forecast and gusting wind. There were one or two technical difficulties but the team has been doing this for a while and they worked well and pulled together to overcome them. The launch in gusting winds was challenging but the team pulled it off well.

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I got to join the Chase team again as we raced across Staffordshire tracking Armstrong. Due to the longer flight time of a high altitude attempt the Chase team got into position well in advance of the burst of the balloon. We all watched as Armstrong broke 30km and began climbing towards the team’s previous altitude records. It blew past Horizon 2’s record of 32151m, broke Horizon 1’s record of 34368m and when it started gaining on Gagarin’s record everyone was quietly (and not so quietly) urging it on. 37km, 38km, 3…hang on. It burst at 38915m just 130m short of Felix Baumgartner’s altitude. So close!

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The team were disappointed that they had just missed the record but elated to have come so close and to have comprehensively smashed all previous school records. The new altitude catapulted Horizon from 59th in the World Altitude Rankings to 32nd and they still have one more launch to go!

The team set out in pursuit of the probe as it travelled East to West across the county. It all came unstuck when we got stuck in traffic on the M6 and missed being close enough to gather data during the final part of the descent. The last transmission was from 1.5km before it was below our visible horizon. We arrived some 40 minutes later and the team conducted a careful search by radio but could hear nothing. With the day drawing to an end they decided to head back to Queen Mary’s and appeal to the local farming community to keep an eye out for Armstrong.

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This was the first high altitude attempt for the team and despite the challenging conditions they pulled of a great launch and came within a whisker of beating Felix Baumgartner’s altitude on the first attempt. The team not only set a new altitude record for Horizon (and their school) on their first high altitude flight but they also catapulted us up the World Altitude Rankings and have attracted an impressive amount of publicity. They have received correspondence from radio operators up and down the country (as well as from far afield as Canada and Russia).

The team has one more flight scheduled for the summer. ‘Hadfield’ (named after Chris Austin Hadfield, a Canadian Astronaut who has popularised Space again by frequently appearing on Social Media and live broadcasts from the ISS with his guitar in hand) will launch on Saturday 5th July. They’ll be trying out a new airframe that should help them shave a few grams off the probe’s weight and with luck this will be just enough to help them beat Felix Baumgartner’s altitude.

My ‘Beat Felix!’ mission diary – Launch tomorrow!

5, 4, 3, 2, 1…lift off! I couldn’t resist, there is a real buzz in the school as everyone is excited about the launch. The Hydrogen arrived today (the cylinder is huge!). The team ran predictions for the flight and the flight path that was predicted looks good as we won’t have too far to travel.

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The weather is what worries them as it is very unsettled and seems to change by the hour. They are hoping for a period without rain in the morning when they can launch.

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It promises to be a very exciting day and you can join in too! Watch the launch live on their website and follow the flight on the tracking map.

Follow them on twitter for live updates throughout the chase.

How is a hedgehog supposed to sleep?

My ‘Beat Felix!’ mission diary – Team meeting

Today we had a very busy meeting as the team prepares for the launch of Armstrong. After a lengthy soldering session and many referrals to his design, Isaac has just about finished Armstrong’s flight computer. He’s wasted no time in putting the new temperature controlled soldering station to good use:

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Soldering the Flight Computers is time consuming work and Isaac has a good eye and a steady hand:

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Elizabeth ran into a problem with her design for Hadfield’s flight computer; it was just too long to fit in the airframe. The engineers had a quick meeting and a solution was arrived at. She is now working on a significant redesign tonight in an attempt to make Hadfield’s flight computer smaller.

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Damini and Alex are working at full tilt on the new website (which the team are hoping to launch soon). They worked out a design for a default page together and then Alex set about adding pages and content while Damini works on a redesign of the logo for the site.

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The Publicity and Sponsorship Team met up to discuss the campaign, everyone now has a role and a press release is being written. We also had time to discuss the Chase Teams for this weekend and for next weekend. While this was going on Mr Coghlan and I conducted a few tests with a tube of UHU Por and some test sections of polystyrene – boy is that glue strong! The team are planning to cut down on the amount of tape they use by using glue instead as it’ll save weight (glue weighs much less than tape and is just as effective if not more so).

The team have a safety briefing before the launch this weekend and they’re planning to finish building Armstrong after the briefing. It’s getting very tense around here as everyone is speculating on the weather for the weekend. I’m looking forward to going on the Chase again and the possibility that they might Beat Felix this weekend

My ‘Beat Felix!’ mission diary – Armstrong launches this weekend

This weekend the team will be launching their first high altitude probe, ‘Armstrong’ (depending on the weather – if its going to be raining on Saturday they’ll launch on Sunday instead). This will be their first attempt to beat Felix Baumgartner’s altitude (and hopefully earn a place in the top ten World Amateur Radio High Altitude Balloon records). The launch day will be confirmed on Friday 27th June on twitter (https://twitter.com/horizonqmgs).
On the day of the launch the website will be updated to feature a live video feed (which should begin ~9:45am) and a live tracking map which will let you see where the balloon is at that moment and where it has been (http://horizon.qmgs.walsall.sch.uk).

I’ll be on the Chase Team again and keeping a diary as we navigate across the country in pursuit of Armstrong.

 

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Tune in on launch day to watch the launch take place, track the flight from your computer and hop on to twitter to wish the team good luck and get all of the latest updates from the Chase.

My ‘Beat Felix!’ mission diary – First flight for Attleborough Academy Norfolk’s Science Department

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Mr Coghlan has been emailing David Brahams (a member of AAN’s Science Department) for a few weeks now. David and the department wanted to launch their own probe but needed a little help. They were looking at just using a SPOT Satellite tracker but if the SPOT doesn’t turn back on when it returns to Earth or it lands in an area with no coverage then they could lose the payload – something a school running a project on a shoe string budget can’t afford. Mr Coghlan offered Horizon’s tracking equipment and expertise to help them with their first flight. David and the team sourced their equipment, built the probe and did all of their own research. I volunteered to help out on the Chase. We all met at Elsworth in Cambridge – a good site for a launch – plenty of big open sky and an easy place to obtain clearance for.

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I got to know the Science Department while Mr Coghlan set up the tracking equipment. The team then started putting their probe together and preparing to fill the balloon.

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Filling the balloon was straightforward thanks to Steve Randall (a big name in High Altitude Ballooning) who had brought a regulator for four of his own flights.

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With the balloon filled and the probe cheerfully returning accurate GPS data the team called the local air traffic control tower.

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After a 5 minute wait for overhead air traffic the launch was a bit of a comedy of errors as the pupil holding the payload was not aware that the balloon was being released and so the probe was snatched from his hands by an overfilled balloon.

While Monarch 1 soared into the sky above, the team packed up the launch site and I got to know some of the younger childen who had come along to see the launch. Mr Coghlan ran a landing prediction and we decided to meet in Great Yeldham as it was half-way between the predicted burst point and the landing point.

We all reached Great Yeldham just after an early burst at a little over 29km and everything started to move very quickly and get very exciting and tense. The good news was that the probe was headed for a field out to the West of Great Yeldham. We set out in the cars for the landing site which was just a mile or so down the road. Unfortunatley the lane we were driving down had high sided hedges so we weren’t going to be able to see the landing and we had no easy point of access to the fields. We pulled up to form a plan and get another reading only to find that the predicted landing spot was moving further West – Monarch 1 was coming in quicker than expected.

We drove another mile West and were relieved to see that the hedges along this side of the road were much lower and there were frequent access points to the fields. We arrived close to the landing site just after the probe landed. A quick text to the GSM tracker and we had an exact position – the bad news was that it was in the far corner of the field – a long walk away! We called the farmer and got his permission to collect the payload.

We headed down the side of the field (losing one or two members of the party in true comedy fashion to the drainage ditch which fortunately was dry). The sixth form gamboled ahead and soon spotted the parachute. The payload had landed in the very corner of the field so it was easy to get to without damaging crops.

 

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The group returned from the field triumphant.

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The last great worry is whether the muvi video camera had worked. They cut into the payload and found that the camera was still running.

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We set out back to the pub in Great Yeldham and watched the footage back in the beer garden. The footage was amazing and Mr Coghlan was very interested in the little video camera they used. Cheers and celebrations all around before we all parted ways and  began the long drive home.