As we drove South the team excitedly relayed the latest altitude and position of Gagarin around the car. Matt had was constantly adjusting the radio, trying to get the best fix on Gagarin’s signal as it’s frequency changed due to the temperature dropping as it soared through the atmosphere and ever upwards towards the black, cold heights of the Stratosphere.
We were just 16 miles away from Cirencester when at 35,118m (21.8 miles) the balloon burst and Gagarin began its descent.
The connection to the internet was patchy so the team decided to stop in Cirencester, take a few minutes to get a fix on Gagarin’s predicted landing spot and get some more refreshments out of the boot of the car.
Within just fifteen minutes of stopping we were on the move again. Gagarin was drifting down towards Swindon and we had a lot of distance to cover in that time.
Traffic favoured us and as Gagarin drifted in to land in a leafy suburb of Swindon we were just reaching the outskirts. The team pulled up briefly to check the smartphone tracker onboard Gagarin (this is a very clever system; you send a text to the smartphone in the probe and if it has reception it will send you a text back with its exact GPS location marked on a satellite photo!).
The satellite map showed Gagarin’s position on the pavement of a small street less than 750m away. Every minute counted as the team didn’t want to lose the payload. We spotted the bright parachute before we had reached Gagarin’s position. It was sitting on the verge outside a house. As it was right next to the pavement we could just scoop it up.
By checking the video footage we could tell we had arrived just twenty four minutes after Gagarin landed. The team were ecstatic that their first flight had been such a success and eagerly cut the seals and opened the payload up to get at the video camera. They then cut the remnants of the balloon free from the parachute lines and packed everything up in the back of the chase vehicle.
Throughout the launch the Horizon twitter feed had been very busy and the pupils were over the moon when they received congratulations on twitter from the European Space Agency and the organisers of World Space Week UK!
When we got back home we could finally look through the video footage and it was amazing! Being on the chase with the team was so much fun but I slept for a full twelve hours afterwards, high altitude adventures are exhausting for a little hedgehog!