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.
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.
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.
With the balloon filled and the probe cheerfully returning accurate GPS data the team called the local air traffic control tower.
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.
The group returned from the field triumphant.
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.
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.