My ‘Beat Felix!’ mission diary – Chasing Gagarin


BF Chase1As 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.

BF chase Hor2BF chase hor1


BF chase Burst

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!).

BF chase fields BF chase house

BF chase landsiteThe 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.


BF caught on cameraBy 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!

BF chase twit BF Chase twitter

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!




My ‘Beat Felix!’ mission diary – Media attention :)


7th May – Horizon is ‘Internet famous’ on the Isle of Wight

BF 7May - internet

Today the team posted some of the photos from the footage captured by Gagarin during its flight. One of the photos was of the Isle of Wight. A twitter user called Steve (twitter user @g0lfp) re-tweeted the photo of the Isle of Wight that the team had just posted. He mentioned two other users @iwradiolucy and @JenniflowerC who also re-tweeted the photo. After that we lost track of it all and lots of other users and organisations across the Isle of Wight re-tweeted the picture. This culminated in Horizon being featured on Isle of Wight Radio, ‘The Island Captured From Space’ [link: and in the Isle of Wight County Press ‘Students’ space probe snaps Isle of Wight from above’[link: So Horizon is now a little ‘Internet Famous’ on the Isle of Wight. This came as a bit of a nice shock to the team and they’re very grateful for the interest in their project if a little bemused.


8th May – Beat Felix and the Department for Education

BF 8May DoE

More excitement today as the teacher in charge of the team was contacted by the Department for Education. They had seen some of the photos from Gagarin’s onboard video camera on twitter and wanted to know more about the project. He sent them a few details and received a message back a short while later to congratulate them on the project and ask if the Department of Education could use some of the photos for a new ‘STEM campaign’ starting the next day. The teacher said yes and went to tell a very excited team! It turns out that Horizon had been featured as a part of the new ‘Your life!’ (#yourlife on twitter) campaign aimed at inspiring young people, particularly women, to pursue science. You can find a story about Horizon and photos from Gagarin and the ‘Beat Felix!’ team on the department’s facebook page [link: The team are very proud to be a part of this initiative and hope that it is a great success, as do I!

My ‘Beat Felix!’ mission diary – Gagarin’s Launch – May

3rd May – Gagarin’s Launch report (written from CASSiE’s point of view)

BF 3May G Launchreport


We arrived at School on Saturday to find clear blue skies and a gentle breeze. I was so excited to be taking part in this again! The team quickly tested all of our equipment and by 8:45am they were ready to start filling the balloon. As the launch wasn’t scheduled to take place until 10am everyone decided to sit back and watch a little television in the Cricket Pavilion we were using as mission control.


Unfortunately the team soon realised that a vital piece of equipment – an electronic scale – was missing. Without it they had no way to measure the weight of Gagarin or the lift force of the balloon. They stopped to think for a few moments and came up with the idea of using water bottles to meaure weight – 1ml of water weighs 1gram so each 500ml bottle weighs 500grams, genius! Using this system they were able to find the payloads approximate weight (just under 500g) and three bottles taped together and attached to the balloon would lift when they had the right amount of gas in the balloon – the launch was back on track.


BF 3May balloonFilling the balloon was much easier this year thanks to the regulator supplied by their sponsor BOC Industrial Gases. The team carried out the inflation just like they rehearsed earlier in the week and the balloon was soon bobbing gently above us.

BF 3May box

Once the balloon was filled the team assembled the payload (I helped as it was quite cramped inside the box).



Unfortunately they turned on the systems inside only to find that the flight computer had stopped working. It was a bit nerve wracking as the Flight Computer Team took the computer back upstairs and re-soldered the power supply circuitry to see if this would help. Thankfully the computer was soon back up and running and a quick test confirmed it was working fine and Gagarin was ready to fly.

In the mean time the teacher in charge had called Birmingham Air Traffic Control and they had given permission for the team to launch at the new time of 11am.

BF 3May noticesI looked after the notices which went on the probe after it was sealed up. I like the ‘Harmless Science Experiment’ notice and I wondered what someone who found this little box would think it was.

The flight computer was tested one last time and we were all relieved to see that the signal was coming in nice and strong.


Just as they had rehearsed the team spread out with Elizabeth at the front, leading with the balloon as they all walked out on to the field.


BF 3May launch

Once they were well clear of all of the buildings they stretched the line out taught and Elizabeth slowly walked back towards the payload letting the balloon rise above her while gently feeding it more line. As she passed each crew member they released their section of line to her and stepped back. Eventually she reached Matt who was holding Gagarin. As the balloon strained to rise further Elizabeth let out the last bit of line and Matt let the balloon carry the payload out of his hands.

It was an amazing sight to witness (last time I was inside Horizon 2 and I didn’t have much of a view).

[suggested place for the youtube launch video:]

This was the team’s first launch and there was a fantastic moment of wonder and silence as everyone watched the balloon carry Gagarin aloft. This was followed by exclamations of ‘Amazing’, ‘Fantastic’, ‘Wow!’ and disbelief that it had worked at all. After taking a few minutes to chat excitedly the team thanked all of the spectators who had come to the launch and we started packing up mission control and loading everything into the chase vehicle.

BF 3May Chasecar


After a lot of fiddling with the radio Matt started receiving the radio telemetry from Gagarin in the car and we set off for Cirencester – just South of where the balloon was supposed to burst.



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My ‘Beat Felix!’ mission diary – April

4th April – Horizon Mural

BF 4Apr Mural

It’s a very proud day for Horizon as the school have put up a mural to commemorate the first flight. It is huge and looks incredible in the corridor between mathematics (the department that run the Horizon project) and science. Hopefully it’ll inspire more pupils to sign up for the project or come up with their own projects.



8th April – Radio tuning

BF 8 Apr Radio

This afternoon everyone on the team had radio training. We had to put the radio together out of the box, tune it so that it picked up the signal from the Flight Computer (a funny warbly noise that the team called RTTY) and connect the radio to the computer. Everyone was paired up and each pair took turns until they could do it without thinking as any of them may be called upon to do the tracking on a launch day. Even I had a go but I needed a little help plugging everything in.

The team are starting to get really excited about the upcoming launch (so am I!) and they had a good chance to talk about it while they waited their turn.

28th April – Balloon and Parachute arrive


Exciting times! The balloon and parachute for Gagarin’s launch arrived today. The balloon package seems much bigger than last year but thanks to the much smaller probe (Gagarin weighs ~500g compared to the 1.6kg of Horizon 2) the parachute is much smaller, we nearly missed it when we unpacked the box. Just five days left until launch!

29th April – Beat Felix Team Meeting

BF 29Apr Gagarin

This afternoon’s team meeting was a walkthrough of Saturday’s launch (I’m so excited!). The teacher in charge talked everyone through the events of the launch and what would need to be done from arrival to leaving. There is a lot that goes into a launch so it took a while and they had to get quite creative with props as some equipment hasn’t arrived yet. One of the parts of the meeting was when the team voted on names for their three probes. The chosen names (launched in this order) are:

  • Gagarin – In memory of Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, a Soviet pilot and cosmonaut. He was the first human to journey into outer space.
  • Armstrong – Named after Neil Alden Armstrong, an American astronaut and the first person to walk on the Moon.
  • Hadfield – Named after Chris Austin Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut who gained popularity by chronicling life aboard the International Space Station and taking pictures of the earth – posting them on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr to a large following of people around the world. He was a guest on television news and talk shows and gained popularity by playing his guitar in space.

My ‘Beat Felix!’ mission diary – March

6th March Sponsorship from Graham Sweet Studios

BF 6Mar Sponsor

A big box of polystyrene shapes arrived today. I am told by the team that these shapes are all from their new sponsor ‘Graham Sweet Studios’. They are potential cases for the two high altitude probes that the team will be building later this year. It’s amazing to think that two of these shapes will become little probes that might journey further above the planet than Felix Baumgartner did.

14th March – Launch dates finalised

Today is a very exciting day as the team have set the dates for all of their launches:

  • Horizon 3 (Probe name undecided as yet) will launch on Saturday 3rd May with reserve dates set for 4th, 10th and 11th May.
  • Horizon 4 (Probe name undecided as yet) will launch on Saturday 21st June with reserve dates set for 22nd, 28th and 29th June.
  • Horizon 5 (Probe name undecided as yet) will launch on Saturday 5th July with reserve dates set for 6th, 12th and 13th July.

It will be a busy summer for the team and I am very excited about launch day (fond memories, although Horizon 2 was a little cramped!). Wish them luck!


18th March – Long term battery test of the Flight Computer followed by team meeting

BF 18Mar Batt test

While they work on building the first flight computer from the new proto-type’s design the team set me the task of testing the battery life of the new power circuitry. The previous computer ran off 3 AA Lithium batteries. The new flight computer has a voltage booster circuit which means the computer can run off 2 AA Lithium batteries although this will shorten the battery life a little. I’m testing the actual battery life to see if the experimental data matches the predictions. It’s not an exciting job but it is interesting. I settled in for a long wait with a good book and a few snacks.

After 9 hours the signal started to fade a little and then, after 10 hours it died completely. The team are very pleased as this will give them plenty of time to launch and recover a probe even if it travels a long way across the country.


20th March – Cheque arrives from Jones Springs

BF 20Mar Chq

The team are all very happy as a local engineering company called ‘Jones Spring’ has generously donated a cheque to the project to help pay for the balloons and parachutes. The team don’t have much more sponsorship to raise now and what is even more impressive is that the school has not had to part fund the team this year; they have raised the money themselves thanks to enthusiastic and generous sponsors.


25th March – Beat Felix Team Meeting – Helping to setup Horizon TV

BF 25Mar TV

The Flight Computer Team began soldering the new flight computer this afternoon. I’m not the most dexterous of creatures so I joined the Sensor Array team as they took an afternoon off from working on the sensor array and set about getting Horizon TV up and running. Last year’s team came up with the neat idea of broadcasting launches live on the internet (although it didn’t go quite as smoothly as they hoped!). The Beat Felix Team plan to do the same so they logged into the old account and set about trying to broadcast. After a few false starts the camera went live and we could broadcast! It was quite fun having a little time in front of the camera but I don’t think I’m cut out for presenting, I’m told I’m a little quiet.

My ‘Beat Felix!’ mission diary – Team Meetings

11th Feb Team Meeting

BF 11feb TeamMeet BF 11feb TeamMeet2

The team meet every Tuesday night and they are very industrious. They break off into separate groups to work on different aspects of the project. Some of them research and write to potential sponsors. Some write short articles which are sent to newspapers and blogs to publicise the project. There is an ICT team which is designing a new website (it looks a little bare at the moment but it is still early days!). There is a small team working on a sensor array (it looks like a very tough project with lots of different sensors to read from) and there is another team working on a new flight computer. Tonight I’ll be Help Elizabeth and Matt with the GPS for the new flight computer. They have been working on this for a while and have almost finished the prototype. Tonight they tested it and it worked! The team celebrated as they received an accurate GPS position for the flight computer which was sitting just outside the window of the classroom. It’s really exciting to be here but it can be difficult to follow with so much going on at any one time!

4th March – Team Meeting

BF 4mar team meet

Tonight I’ll be helping Elizabeth as she plans out the design for the new circuit. It’s a complicated job as she has to look at where all the electrical connections are on the prototype and then work out how to translate that onto stripboard whilst keeping the size of the computer as small as possible. Every gram counts in these high altitude attempts and the team are being very thorough in their preparations. By the end of the evening we were redesigning the first draft to make it more space efficient.


My ‘Beat Felix!’ mission diary – First Contact

My most recent mission is proving to be very exciting!

31st January – I got an exciting offer…

31Jan beat felix

The Horizon team at Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Walsall (the same team who let me hitch a ride into the Stratosphere on Horizon 2!) got in touch today to ask if I’d like to join them for a new mission titled, ‘Beat Felix!’ They intend to make three flights into the Stratosphere in an attempt to beat the altitude achieved by Felix Baumgartner and the Red Bull Stratos Team. They are also hoping to earn a place in the top ten Amateur World Altitude Records. I won’t be flying on this mission but they have invited me to work wit them behind the scenes on the project. Needless to say I was very excited and jumped at the opportunity! I’ll be travelling to Walsall soon and I’ll let you know what I’m up to on my blog.


4th February – The start of my journey


I set out today on my journey to Walsall today – I hope the mail man is gentle!


5th February – Arrival at QMGS

5feb arrivewave5 feb team 5feb kit

I arrived at Queen Mary’s today and was welcomed by the Beat Felix Team. They’re an amazing bunch! I was not the only arrival as they had just received a package of electronics and materials from their sponsor Rapid Electronics. My first job was to help the team stow the electronics away. I took the opportunity to get to know some of the team members while we were working and they told me a little about how they got involved with the project. All of them had to fill out an application and then they were among the few who were selected for an interview. It sounds pretty tough and a lot of other pupils applied but weren’t successful this year. You can get to know the team too by heading over to the ‘Meet the Team’ page on the Horizon website: