My Sun Chaser Blog – Launch Date Confirmed!

I have goose bumps! My launch has been arranged for Saturday 11th July 15 (this Saturday). I’m going to launch from Queen Mary’s Grammar School grounds in Walsall. I should get some stunning views of the Midlands and the Peak District.

Saturday Flight Path Prediction - Wednesday 8th July

The initial prediction for Saturday looks great! I’ll launch at 2:00am and fly to an altitude of ~36km. Sunrise should begin once the probe reaches an altitude of 25km. This will mean I get to see the two hours leading up to sunrise as well as about 50 minutes after sunrise. The balloon should burst just south of the Peak District and the probe should land near Ollerton, Nottinghamshire.

Saturday Weather Prediction - Wednesday 8th July

The initial weather prediction for Saturday looks good. At 2:00am there will be little, if any cloud and it should be quite mild at 11oC. The only difficulty will be the wind speed which is a little higher than the team would like.

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My Sun Chaser Blog – Team Meeting 23

With examinations underway the team is down to just a few members at meets. Some of them are working on the Sun Chaser Movie. They’ve got all of the ‘Making of’ footage and they’re planning the movie around the footage which the probe should capture at altitude.

They quickly drafted a storyboard and then set about discussing details, design and music. They’ve got some great ideas and the first draft sounds really impressive.

tm23 - Packing the probe

While work began on the movie, the remaining members of the team started constructing the beacon circuit, weighing all of the equipment to fly aboard the probe and cutting the last camera mount on the probe.

tm23 - Finishing the probe

Everything is coming together and we’ll be ready in plenty of time for the launches in June. I’m getting really excited!

My Sun Chaser Blog – Team Meeting 22

The team has been working double time to get everything ready. One of the last jobs is to cut and carve the airframe so that all of the equipment fits securely. Three of the team’s engineers set about measuring positions for all of the equipment based on their design.

tm22 - Engineers working on the probe

Measuring and marking is very tricky as the probe box is a cube with a side length of less than 200mm so there isn’t much space to work inside. Having already practiced with the different cutting tools on off-cuts the engineers had a good idea of which tools to use for each job.

tm22 - Adding camera ports

Cutting requires a steady hand and the Dremel is a perfect tool as it leaves a smooth edge (if you use the right tools) and can be held with a pen grip for detailed work.

tm22 - Matt and Qiang working on the probe 2

tm22 - Probe Tracking Training

With exams looming most of the team will be revising. They’ve nearly finished the probe and the they have all trained hard for this. All that’s left to say is, “good luck to everyone for their exams!”

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 20

The Education Team had a few resources to finish for the outreach lesson and some new equipment to test. They quickly organised the rest of the group to help prepare flash cards and test the refraction glasses (rainbow light from every light source!). The solar powered toys are great fun and were easy to put together (The little solar-powered fan can turn at a surprising rate!).
tm20refractionglasses

tm20preparingflashcards
One of the team’s engineers soldered the replacement GPS module to the flight computer and took it out for a test. We all waited in anticipation and after a few tense minutes he returned triumphant with a steady stream of telemetry being collected by the mobile ground station. I love the effect these triumphs have on the team and it’s a great feeling to be a part of it.
tm20flightcomputertest
I got quite an education as two experienced members of the Flight Team spent the meeting teaching the rest of us how to use the smartphone tracking system to locate the probe when it lands. I’m really looking forward to the next stage of flight training now as we’ll be learning how to attach and fill a balloon in preparation for a probe flight!
tm20probe

While one of the engineers tested the Flight Computer, the rest of the Engineering Team continued working on the probe I’ll be flying in. They finished a separate compartment for my friend ‘Tweedy’ (St Mary’s the Mount Primary School’s mascot) as there won’t be space for him in the main probe. They’ve also made anchor points in both Tweedy’s compartment and the top of the main probe so that the two can be attached (although they will be separated by several metres of line so we’ll have to shout to each other if we want to talk – maybe the team will fit walkie talkies if I ask them). Next week they’re going to start cutting out the antenna and camera ports.

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).

tm15mattcwk

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.

tm15lizteachtm17liamteaching

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!

William with banner

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.

tm13model3

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.

tm12eng2

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.

tm13engineers1

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!).