My ‘Beat Felix!’ mission diary – Armstrong launch report

The team has had some amazing support on the back of the launch of Gagarin (their training flight). The organisers of Science Week UK, Adventurer/presenter Dallas Campbell, Valerie Vaz (MP for Walsall South), the Rt Hon David Willetts (Minister for Science and Universities), British Astronaut Major Timothy Peake, the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency have all congratulated the team on their work so far and wished them well for the launches of Armstrong and Hadfield.

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The weather was not on our side for launch with possible heavy showers forecast and gusting wind. There were one or two technical difficulties but the team has been doing this for a while and they worked well and pulled together to overcome them. The launch in gusting winds was challenging but the team pulled it off well.

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I got to join the Chase team again as we raced across Staffordshire tracking Armstrong. Due to the longer flight time of a high altitude attempt the Chase team got into position well in advance of the burst of the balloon. We all watched as Armstrong broke 30km and began climbing towards the team’s previous altitude records. It blew past Horizon 2’s record of 32151m, broke Horizon 1’s record of 34368m and when it started gaining on Gagarin’s record everyone was quietly (and not so quietly) urging it on. 37km, 38km, 3…hang on. It burst at 38915m just 130m short of Felix Baumgartner’s altitude. So close!

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The team were disappointed that they had just missed the record but elated to have come so close and to have comprehensively smashed all previous school records. The new altitude catapulted Horizon from 59th in the World Altitude Rankings to 32nd and they still have one more launch to go!

The team set out in pursuit of the probe as it travelled East to West across the county. It all came unstuck when we got stuck in traffic on the M6 and missed being close enough to gather data during the final part of the descent. The last transmission was from 1.5km before it was below our visible horizon. We arrived some 40 minutes later and the team conducted a careful search by radio but could hear nothing. With the day drawing to an end they decided to head back to Queen Mary’s and appeal to the local farming community to keep an eye out for Armstrong.

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This was the first high altitude attempt for the team and despite the challenging conditions they pulled of a great launch and came within a whisker of beating Felix Baumgartner’s altitude on the first attempt. The team not only set a new altitude record for Horizon (and their school) on their first high altitude flight but they also catapulted us up the World Altitude Rankings and have attracted an impressive amount of publicity. They have received correspondence from radio operators up and down the country (as well as from far afield as Canada and Russia).

The team has one more flight scheduled for the summer. ‘Hadfield’ (named after Chris Austin Hadfield, a Canadian Astronaut who has popularised Space again by frequently appearing on Social Media and live broadcasts from the ISS with his guitar in hand) will launch on Saturday 5th July. They’ll be trying out a new airframe that should help them shave a few grams off the probe’s weight and with luck this will be just enough to help them beat Felix Baumgartner’s altitude.

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