3rd May – Gagarin’s Launch report (written from CASSiE’s point of view)
OFF TO A GOOD START…OR SO WE THOUGHT
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.
Filling 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.
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.
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.
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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fHy2Gdc6bSw]
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.
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.