My Sun Chaser Blog – Horizon’s Third Outreach Lesson

The third outreach lesson is the one I’ve been looking forward to the most. The topic was ‘Our Atmosphere’ and the aim was to introduce pupils to the different parts of the Earth’s Atmosphere and the scientific principles that make Project Horizon’s probe flights possible.
Outreach 3 - Lauren presents
Originally the team had planned to show some footage from the Sun Chaser Probe but as the flight had to be rescheduled for the summer they showed some footage from their ‘Beat Felix’ mission instead:

The classroom was silent throughout the screening and the pupils had dozens of questions for the team afterwards.
Outreach 3 - Lauren with the pupils outdoors
After all the questions the Education Team led us all outside for a practical science demonstration. They attached one of their training balloons (much smaller than the balloons used for regular flights) to a helium cylinder and filled it with enough gas to give over 1.5kg of lift! They then attached the balloon to two lines: a safety line which was held by a teacher and a line for the pupils to use. The pupils then took it in turns, walking underneath the balloon, out into the playground and back again. They could change the height of the balloon, experience the lift force and feel the effects of the wind when it gusted. It was great fun and all of them were surprised by the lifting force of the helium.
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Their class teacher also took a turn and a few classes of younger pupils came out to watch the demonstration.
Outreach 3 - Competitive playOutreach 3 - Big grins
The balloon activity gave the team a chance to discuss the scientific principles behind the project and it elicited a lot of questions from the pupils. With just a little time left before the end of the lesson the pupils played a themed board game that the Education Team had made. It was a lovely way to end the day and there was some fierce competition as progress was often dependent upon correctly answering some tough scientific questions.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the outreach lessons at St Mary’s the Mount Primary and I’m looking forward to attending an assembly for the upper school next week. The assembly will be run by the Year 6 class we’ve been working with and they’ll be talking to the rest of the school about what they have learned. The team will also be showing some footage from a previous flight before the school formally hands over their mascot, Tweedy, who will fly with me on one of the two Sun Chaser probes this Summer.

I’m told that after the flight the Project Horizon Team will return Tweedy to St Mary’s along with photos and footage from the probe!

The Education Team were paid a great compliment for their hard work as St Mary’s have asked them to come back again next year. It’s really exciting to be a part of these lessons and I can’t wait to see how the outreach programme develops in the future.

My Sun Chaser Blog – Team Meeting 21

This afternoon’s meeting was the best one yet! While the Education Team put the finishing touches to the final outreach lesson and checked their resources the rest of the team headed outside for the next stage of Flight Training – attaching and inflating the balloon. We had a quick demonstration of how not to inflate the balloon by one of the teachers:

tm21 - Dr Ramalho pretends to inflate the balloon

The head of Horizon’s Flight Crew split the team up into small groups and taught each of us the knots we will need to secure the parachute line to the balloon.
tm21 - Lydia ties the parachute attachment 2
Once all of the team were proficient, he showed them how to attach the balloon to the helium tank for filling. The team filled a training balloon with Helium for practice and floated it around the quad (which was great fun).
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While the rest of the team were completing the next stage of their flight training, the Engineering Team continued working on the probe. They started planning the camera mounts and trialed their ideas on some polystyrene off-cuts before they cut into the probe. As a result, their first mounting spot fits the camera like a glove and should help seal in any warmth generated by the electronic circuits and batteries (so I’ll be cosy even when the temperature outside drops below 0C).

My Sun Chaser Blog – Horizon’s 2nd Outreach Lesson

I’m thoroughly enjoying the outreach lessons, Year 6 is great fun to work with. This week was the second lesson of Horizon’s outreach programme and it was all about ‘The Sun’. The pupils learned a lot about the features of the Sun, solar energy, why the Sun appears to rise and set, and the dangers of the Sun.

Outreach 2 - Dangers of the sun

The team tell me that this lesson was inspired by the fact that 2015 has been designated the ‘International Year of Light':

The lesson included a number of experiments:

– a test to see how well sunscreen really works, using colour changing ultraviolet light sensitive beads and two strengths of sunscreen.

– an experiment involving solar powered toys, aimed at helping pupils to understand how solar panels work.

Outreach 2 - Solar powered wonderment

– an activity examining the effects of different light sources on refractive glasses.

– The final lesson activity was a small quiz which involved flashcards made by the team.

Outreach 2 - Quiz timeOutreach 2 - I KNOW

The pupils loved the refractive glasses experiment (you look at a light source and the glasses split white light into all of the different colours). The pupils all got to keep the glasses at the end of the lesson!
Outreach 2 - Rainbow diffraction glasses 2
The UV Beads experiment was a big success and it illustrated the importance of good quality, high SPF protection when out in the Sun.
Outreach 2 - UV Bead experiment 8

We all had a great time and I’m looking forward to next week’s lesson which will look at Project Horizon itself and the Atmosphere.

Outreach 2 - St Mary's the Mount pupils and CASSiE 2

My Sun Chaser Blog – Team Meeting 20

The Education Team had a few resources to finish for the outreach lesson and some new equipment to test. They quickly organised the rest of the group to help prepare flash cards and test the refraction glasses (rainbow light from every light source!). The solar powered toys are great fun and were easy to put together (The little solar-powered fan can turn at a surprising rate!).
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One of the team’s engineers soldered the replacement GPS module to the flight computer and took it out for a test. We all waited in anticipation and after a few tense minutes he returned triumphant with a steady stream of telemetry being collected by the mobile ground station. I love the effect these triumphs have on the team and it’s a great feeling to be a part of it.
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I got quite an education as two experienced members of the Flight Team spent the meeting teaching the rest of us how to use the smartphone tracking system to locate the probe when it lands. I’m really looking forward to the next stage of flight training now as we’ll be learning how to attach and fill a balloon in preparation for a probe flight!
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While one of the engineers tested the Flight Computer, the rest of the Engineering Team continued working on the probe I’ll be flying in. They finished a separate compartment for my friend ‘Tweedy’ (St Mary’s the Mount Primary School’s mascot) as there won’t be space for him in the main probe. They’ve also made anchor points in both Tweedy’s compartment and the top of the main probe so that the two can be attached (although they will be separated by several metres of line so we’ll have to shout to each other if we want to talk – maybe the team will fit walkie talkies if I ask them). Next week they’re going to start cutting out the antenna and camera ports.

My Sun Chaser Blog – Horizon’s First Outreach Lesson

In previous years the Horizon team have shared advice, code, designs, research and suppliers’ details with many other schools and pupils. They’ve even travelled to Cambridge (and on to Essex) to help the Science Department at Attleborough Academy Norfolk track their first probe, ‘Monarch 1′.

AAN - Retrieval Pic

I was really excited to find out that this year they’re taking this support a step further and running their first outreach programme. The team are working with the fabulous Year 6 pupils at St Mary’s the Mount Primary School and are very grateful to the school for volunteering to work with them in developing their programme.

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Their Education Team (Two of Horizon’s Physicists) have planned a programme of three lessons: ‘The Solar System’, ‘The Sun’ and ‘Our Atmosphere’. On Wednesday they ran the first ever Horizon outreach lesson. The lesson explored our Solar System, looking at the true distances between the planets, the position of the Asteroid Belt, the Oort Cloud (named after the Astronomer, Jan Oort) and Comets.

Before we arrived the class had held a vote and decided to name their mascot (who will be flying aboard the first Sun Chaser probe with me!). Let me be the first to introduce you all to my new friend ‘Tweedy':

Tweedy

The team led the pupils in making posters about each of the planets, the asteroid belt and comets (using a class set of ipads and several good books). There were some fantastic posters, some great colour drawings of planets and plenty of interesting discussions and questions about Space.

Outreach 1 - Making postersOutreach 1 - Research

With posters ready, the pupils headed out onto the playground in teams to make a scale model of the Solar System with inflatable planets (toilet roll helped to measure the distances). Once the solar system was made, the long and short period ‘comets’ began to orbit the sun.

Outreach 1 - Out in the playground planning Outreach 1 - Ready with the planets

There was a lot of excitement and we had a great time discussing the Solar System, advances being made by ‘New Space’ companies and developments that the pupils might see in their lifetimes. The Education Team did a fantastic job and their passion for Physics really shone through. I’m very excited about next week’s lesson about ‘the Sun’.

Planets

My Sun Chaser Blog – Launch postponed…

The team were preparing to launch the first probe (and me!!!) on Saturday 18th April but the weather turned on us and with the wind blowing across the UK from North East to South West the probe was headed for a watery landing in the Irish Sea on any of the planned launch days. April is always a challenging month for a launch and the team seem pretty resilient about scrubbing the launch and searching for another date.

Launch cancelled - Out to sea Sat 18th AprLaunch cancelled - Out to sea Sun 19th Apr

My Sun Chaser Blog – March

March started with great excitement as I joined the Education Team on a visit to St Mary’s on the Mount Catholic Primary School. We got to meet the teacher of the class that the team will be working with and the team got a tour of the school as well as a chance to sit down and ask all of the questions they’ve been saving up. It was a great visit and St Mary’s is a beautiful school.

St Mary's Classroom

Following their meeting at St Mary’s on the Mount, the Education Team set about splitting the class list up into groups, writing instructions for each activity and filling our the final details for each of the lessons.

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The last lesson will be about the Earth’s Atmosphere and will feature Horizon and some of it technology (hopefully including a little helium filled weather balloon so that pupils can float things around the classroom).

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Though the formulae are finished they still had to be incorporated into the Sunrise Calculator. With so many changes needed and a few bugs already present, the Modelling Team decided to completely rewrite the code. It was very time consuming but by the end of the month they had a beta version which was stable and tested well.

The Publicity Team split their time between tracking down potential sponsors and researching possible contacts for local and county news organisations. They also prepared a press release for the first launch to go out in April. Their efforts were successful as the team was joined by two new sponsors, one of which is a local Aerospace Consultant.

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With the launch approaching the Engineering Team was under a lot of pressure. They finished the build for the Flight Computer but testing revealed a problem with the GPS which they didn’t have time to resolve before the Easter Holiday.

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Testing of the beacon (which will help the team locate the probe when it lands) proved it was loud and made the engineer in charge of it a little unpopular with the rest of the group. The design evolved when they noticed that the Arduino couldn’t output the power needed for the LED arrays and it was decided that they would use the Arduino to control the circuit via a transistor.

Canon A810 and Ixus 140 1engmeet cambatterycircuit

The engineers also took delivery of two 16MP cameras (a Canon A810 and a Canon IXUS 140). They were quick to customise the firmware and install intervalometer scripts which would automate the cameras. The tricky part was battery life testing. Although the GoPro Hero 2 has an extra battery giving it over 3 hrs runtime and the Canon A810 runs off Energiser Lithium Batteries, the Canon IXUS 140 only has a Lithium Ion battery which wouldn’t even come close to lasting the flight. The team had to build a custom power circuit to ensure the camera could shoot photos throughout the entire flight.

The extra work meant that the team were late to start building the probe though they did make some progress. This means that the first week back after the Easter Holidays is going to be very busy.

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With the first launch coming up soon a few of the team took time out from their regular roles to train each other for the forthcoming launch. They ran lessons on Probe Flight Planning, attaching the parachute to the payload and filling the balloon. They had a lot of fun trying to master some of the knots involved. One highlight was a team member who managed to zip tie their glove to the balloon – you don’t want to launch yourself!

William with banner

The team asked a GCSE pupil who studies Art to design a pop-up banner for their stand. The banner design they came up with was really impressive and was used at both the Open Evening and the Think Tank.

Planetarium - Our area Planetarium - Busy Stand Planetarium - Super pictures

My favourite part of the month was the ‘Meet the Experts’ session at the Think Tank and Planetarium in Birmingham. Volunteers from the team set up a stand in the centre of the Think Tank and talked to members of the public about their roles and the upcoming mission. They projected footage from previous missions onto a big screen which stopped many visitors in their tracks. The best part of the whole stand was a colouring area where children who visited the stand could let their imaginations run riot as they made pictures of whatever inspired them.

Everyone is excited and nervous as April is the time of the first launch and the start of the outreach programme. I’ll be flying aboard the probe and if the team gets the timing right the view will be spectacular.