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!

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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.

My Sun Chaser Blog – February

Having been around for a few months now I’m beginning to feel like one of the team. I got some great selfies with some of the sub-teams during of the meetings this month. I’ve also got lots to report on.

The Publicity Team split their time this month between continuing their work on the promotional posters for a display at the Chasewater Innovation Centre and identifying new potential sponsors for the Sun Chaser mission. They also put the finishing touches to an infographic detailing some of Project Horizon’s achievements since it began – it’s impressive work!

Horizon Achievements

The Modelling Team have done some amazing work and have added a number of new features and refinements to the Sunrise Calculator. One of the key questions was how to deal with refraction of sunlight in the Earth’s atmosphere. When their research reached a dead end they reached out to Dr Helen Mason of the Department for Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge University. Dr Mason was heading out on an expedition but passed their enquiry to Dr David Pike (of Cambridge University’s SunTrek Team). Dr Pike was able to put the team in touch with Dr Andrew T. Young at San Diego University who was able to recommend a really helpful journal article on the subject. After a lot of reading the team adjusted their model using the calculations in the article.

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Never content with just achieving the basic goals the team also added the ability to predict the times of Civil Dawn (when the Sun is 6 degrees below the horizon) and Nautical Dawn (when the Sun is 12 degrees below the horizon) to the model.

All of these new features mean that the code will need to be mostly rewritten which will be quite a challenge.

The Education Team drafted and re-drafted their first two lesson plans.

tm13edu and pubHaving added a little detail both plans were sent to their partner school, St Mary’s on the Mount Catholic School. They also put together a shopping list of resources to support their lessons.

Next month they’ll be heading over to St Mary’s School to discuss the lessons, resources and indoor/outdoor spaces.

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The month did not start well for the Engineering Team as a small misreading of a circuit diagram led to the sudden and explosive death of the Arduino Pro Mini in their test kit (a replacement was promptly put on order). Despite this early setback the team quickly recovered and got started on the task of building the probe’s systems. This began with the more experienced members from last year’s mission teaching the others how to solder.

Unboxing rapid 2

The highlight of the month was the arrival of two large boxes of equipment from the team’s Sponsors; Rapid Electronics and Proto-pic.co.uk. The engineers wasted no time cutting into the boxes and unpacking all of the new equipment. The boxes contained all of the electronics the team needs (except for a few antenna connectors which are out of stock, but should arrive soon). They also contained some torches as the team will be preparing for launch between 2 and 4am in pitch black so good lighting will be essential.

Following the arrival of the new equipment the Engineering Team went back over the flight computer circuit, adding in the last few connections and taking turns to check it against the original design. The new tracking firmware was quickly uploaded and was ready for testing by the end of the month.

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The other half of the team worked on two projects; camera modifications and the design for a beacon to make the probe (and me) easier to find when it lands. They quickly figured out how to customise the camera firmware of last year’s camera. The beacon is taking a little more work. They have set up an Arduino to control eight LEDs and a pair of speakers on the outside of the probe. The lights and sound will pulse to make it easy to find the probe (and me) when it lands.

The team were humbled to receive the support of four new sponsors for their Sun Chaser mission. It was heartening to see that many of the sponsors had supported the Beat Felix mission last year.

The second highlight of the month was a plug for the Sun Chaser Mission on Twitter by BBC Click’s Kate Russell (I wish she could have seen the excitement that flashed around the room when the team found out!).