My Sun Chaser Blog – Horizon’s Third Outreach Lesson

The third outreach lesson is the one I’ve been looking forward to the most. The topic was ‘Our Atmosphere’ and the aim was to introduce pupils to the different parts of the Earth’s Atmosphere and the scientific principles that make Project Horizon’s probe flights possible.
Outreach 3 - Lauren presents
Originally the team had planned to show some footage from the Sun Chaser Probe but as the flight had to be rescheduled for the summer they showed some footage from their ‘Beat Felix’ mission instead:

The classroom was silent throughout the screening and the pupils had dozens of questions for the team afterwards.
Outreach 3 - Lauren with the pupils outdoors
After all the questions the Education Team led us all outside for a practical science demonstration. They attached one of their training balloons (much smaller than the balloons used for regular flights) to a helium cylinder and filled it with enough gas to give over 1.5kg of lift! They then attached the balloon to two lines: a safety line which was held by a teacher and a line for the pupils to use. The pupils then took it in turns, walking underneath the balloon, out into the playground and back again. They could change the height of the balloon, experience the lift force and feel the effects of the wind when it gusted. It was great fun and all of them were surprised by the lifting force of the helium.
Outreach 3 - Balloon Fun 3Outreach 3 - Balloon Fun 6Outreach 3 - Balloon Fun 14
Their class teacher also took a turn and a few classes of younger pupils came out to watch the demonstration.
Outreach 3 - Competitive playOutreach 3 - Big grins
The balloon activity gave the team a chance to discuss the scientific principles behind the project and it elicited a lot of questions from the pupils. With just a little time left before the end of the lesson the pupils played a themed board game that the Education Team had made. It was a lovely way to end the day and there was some fierce competition as progress was often dependent upon correctly answering some tough scientific questions.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the outreach lessons at St Mary’s the Mount Primary and I’m looking forward to attending an assembly for the upper school next week. The assembly will be run by the Year 6 class we’ve been working with and they’ll be talking to the rest of the school about what they have learned. The team will also be showing some footage from a previous flight before the school formally hands over their mascot, Tweedy, who will fly with me on one of the two Sun Chaser probes this Summer.

I’m told that after the flight the Project Horizon Team will return Tweedy to St Mary’s along with photos and footage from the probe!

The Education Team were paid a great compliment for their hard work as St Mary’s have asked them to come back again next year. It’s really exciting to be a part of these lessons and I can’t wait to see how the outreach programme develops in the future.


My Sun Chaser Blog – Team Meeting 21

This afternoon’s meeting was the best one yet! While the Education Team put the finishing touches to the final outreach lesson and checked their resources the rest of the team headed outside for the next stage of Flight Training – attaching and inflating the balloon. We had a quick demonstration of how not to inflate the balloon by one of the teachers:

tm21 - Dr Ramalho pretends to inflate the balloon

The head of Horizon’s Flight Crew split the team up into small groups and taught each of us the knots we will need to secure the parachute line to the balloon.
tm21 - Lydia ties the parachute attachment 2
Once all of the team were proficient, he showed them how to attach the balloon to the helium tank for filling. The team filled a training balloon with Helium for practice and floated it around the quad (which was great fun).
tm21 - Liam attaches the balloon 11tm21 - Liam attaches the balloon 12

tm21 - Liam attaches the balloon 14tm21 - Liam attaches the balloon 17
While the rest of the team were completing the next stage of their flight training, the Engineering Team continued working on the probe. They started planning the camera mounts and trialed their ideas on some polystyrene off-cuts before they cut into the probe. As a result, their first mounting spot fits the camera like a glove and should help seal in any warmth generated by the electronic circuits and batteries (so I’ll be cosy even when the temperature outside drops below 0C).

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.


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.


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 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.


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!).

My Sun Chaser Blog – January

The team came back well rested and fizzing with excitement. December has quickly faded into the past as I found myself swept up by the busy new atmosphere.

This was the month for videos as the team put the finishing touches to the Beat Felix Movie and released it. This was quickly followed by a brand new trailer for the project:

Once the team had a few videos online they set up a YouTube Channel to host them all.

They’ve even started to collect together videos from around the web on their channel to highlight the big developments taking place in the Space Industry as humanity enters a new Space Race.

tm10edu2 tm9edu1

The Education Team started working on three lessons (one for each of the themes). They also brought in some ‘lesson resources’ which they tested extensively. During the lessons they’re planning to screen some footage from one of Horizon’s launches, experiment with Solar Cells, build a model Solar System to scale in the playground and possibly inflate a weather balloon with helium, amongst other things.


Equipment lay everywhere as the Engineering Team looked over the old probes for inspiration. There were several discussions began about how big the probe would need to be to carry all of the mission critical equipment as well as myself and the partner primary school’s mascot. The team also received new radio modules and a new GPS board so they’re starting work on the Flight Computer. First they have to build a testing platform to check the modules all work. There was a little soldering work to do and one team member from the Beat Felix Mission took it upon themselves to teach the other engineers.

Engineering - Soldering components 2

Through a division of labour the Engineers have also started learning to flash and edit firmware for the Canon camera.


The Modelling Team brought in a little outside help from another pupil in the sixth form. They needed help finishing the program for the Sunrise Calculator as the learning curve for the language has been steep. The calculator was quickly finished but testing revealed a couple of inaccuracies and it was back to the drawing board. Fortunately the problems were easy to fix but it meant that the Sunrise Calculator Code will need to be rewritten. The team are not happy with the accuracy yet and they plan to contact Dr Helen Mason at Cambridge University for some help accounting for the refraction of light in the atmosphere.


Samosa Sale 2015 (1)

The Publicity Team have been tremendously busy and have split their time between working on new posters about previous Horizon missions and planning the Samosa Sale. The sale was a tremendous success and an incredible 550 samosas were sold in under fifteen minutes. I was impressed at how quickly they got set up, sold out and cleaned up after themselves. It was like a military operation!

The best news of the month was that two new companies would be joining the project as sponsors for the Sun Chaser Mission.

My Sun Chaser Blog – November


The Sun Chaser Team met four times in November and even found time to run a display at the school’s Open Evening.


The Education Team amassed an impressive collection of lesson activities and resources over the first two meetings. They then set about separating all of these resources into three categories for the three lessons they were planning.


The Modelling Team put together the first draft of a mathematical model to calculate the time of sunrise from the Stratosphere. They turned the model into an excel spreadsheet to make the calculations automatic and then they had the idea of building a programme in Visual Basic which would be easy to use on any laptop and could be shared on the Horizon website once it was finished. The learning curve was steep but they were both really excited by the challenge.


The Engineers quickly gained proficiency with the Arduino and began using it to construct increasingly complex projects ranging from a Traffic Light System to a programmable mood-light. The wall at the back of the classroom was painted with multi-coloured light from their project’s LED every meeting.


The Publicity Team took on two jobs, photo-documenting each meeting and filming what they hoped would be the first of many video interviews with people from the Space Industry that Horizon has planned over the next few years.

6th Form Open Evening - Horizon 5 6th Form Open Evening - Horizon 2

It was exciting watching each team member start to find their feet and gradually become the expert in their field. A lot of thought has clearly gone into matching each pupil to a role that would capture their imagination and play to their strengths.

My Sun Chaser Blog – October

Wow, time with the Sun Chaser team has passed so quickly and there has been a lot to learn! I’m going to try and bring my blog up-to-date over the next couple of weeks covering a whole month with each post.

The Sun Chaser Team first met in October. The members come from lots of different years across the school with the youngest member being in Year 10 and the eldest member being in Year 13. The first meeting was a lot of fun as the members got together for the first time and found out which teams they were going to be on. There was lots of discussion about the challenges ahead and everyone was eager to get started.

The Publicity and Sponsorship Team photograph the Education and Modelling Teams hard at work at the start of the Sun Chaser mission.

The following week they split into their respective teams and started working on their own areas of the mission. The Publicity Team covered each meeting by taking photos of the work the different groups were doing and began planning the first fund raising event.

The Education Team started collecting resources for a series of lessons that they will be delivering at their partner primary school. This is Horizon’s first foray into outreach and will help the team identify which elements work best. The plan is to put together a one day programme which will raise aspirations and inspire local Primary School pupils to take a greater interest in STEM subjects.

Sun Chaser's Engineering Team get to work with the Arduino.

The Engineering Team wasted no time in getting Arduinos set up and learning to build circuits and write programmes. They quickly picked up the language which is a varient of C/C++ and the flashing lights of their first circuits could be seen across the classroom.

The Modelling Team dived straight into research as their task was to devise a mathematical model which would predict the sunrise, not from the ground, but from 30-35km up in the Stratosphere. There was a lot of reading to do and the mathematics was going to test the limits of their abilities and imaginations.

Being a part of this early stage of the project was a real treat as the atmosphere at each meeting fizzes with excitement.

Horizon: Sun Chaser (and the International Year of Light)

Sun Chaser - Logo

Horizon’s mission for this academic year is called ‘Sun Chaser’ and not only will I be blogging the mission but I’ll be flying on-board! There is a new team this year, so I have lots of names to learn (you can meet them all here).


This year their mission is to capture footage of the Sun’s rise over the horizon of the planet from the Stratosphere. In order to achieve this, they will construct a mathematical model which can predict the time of sunrise from altitude. They’ll also design and build two new probes (names to be announced later). The launches will take place in the dead of night in Wales and will be timed so that as the probes are reaching their peak altitude, the Sun’s disc will just be visible over the horizon. I can’t wait!

Both launches will take place in 2015, the International Year of Light. A celebration of light in all areas of life around the world:

The launches are just one aspect of what the team will be doing this year. They’ll also be trialling an outreach programme in which team members visit St. Mary’s the Mount Catholic School to teach three enriched Science lessons on the topics of ‘The Earth and the Sun’, ‘Our Solar System’ and ‘Horizon – Our Atmosphere’. The team will teach Year 6 pupils who will then feedback what they have learned to the whole school in assembly. St. Mary’s mascot will fly aboard the Sun Chaser probe along with me. The team hopes that this will be the first of many outreach programmes aimed at inspiring Primary aged pupils to take an interest in STEM subjects and Space.

Following the lessons at St. Mary’s the Mount Catholic School the team have been invited to visit the Birmingham Planetarium for a day and I’ll be going with them. During the day they will run a stand in the centre of the Think Tank where we will be meeting with members of the public, talking about this year’s mission and showing footage from the project so far.

It’s going to be another exciting year and it’s difficult to remember at times that Horizon is run by high school pupils.

You can find out more about their adventures through their website:

Keep up-to-date with the latest from the team on their twitter feed:

Watch videos from the team on their YouTube channel: