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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.