Sky’s The Limit for Calthorpe Park School Students
Students at Calthorpe Park School have designed equipment and programmed technology to capture the curvature of the
Earth through photographs and video footage using a helium filled weather balloon.
On Friday 20th June 2014, an insulated capsule, containing a high-resolution camera, GPS tracking equipment and weather-measuring sensors was sent 32 km up into the edge of “near space” — an altitude of over 104,000 feet. The balloon needed approval from the Civil Aviation Authority to pass through UK airspace and, due to Fleet and the surrounding area being located on the main Heathrow Airport flight path, the balloon was launched from just north of Newbury.
Working closely with PhD Students from Southampton University’s Spaceflight Association the balloon was tracked throughout its flight. It eventually landed near Alresford town centre, in a local resident’s garden and was successfully retrieved by interested neighbours. Calthorpe Park School’s STEM Club, under the guidance of staff members Donna Wilson, David Lugg and David Hainsworth, had designed and built this amazing project.
Mr Hainsworth said: “The science behind our balloon launch was truly amazing. The balloon was 2.5m in diameter when launched and it carried a parachute and payload below it - giving it a total length of about 30m. As it rose the outside pressure decreased which led to the helium within the balloon expanding, causing the balloon to stretch. The balloon is made of stretchy latex. As it entered space it got to a point where it could not stretch anymore and burst. The parachute then brought the payload (our camera, GPS and weather sensors) back to earth. We were all extremely pleased that our balloon had reached a height of 32km above earth, high enough to see and record the curvature of the earth. To put that in context Felix Baumgartner's jump from space in 2012 was from a height of 39km.”
One student, Jack Pollock aged 12 said: “It was one of the most enjoyable and interesting projects I have ever been involved with in STEM Club. My role was to go out in the school minibus along with other pupils and my teacher to launch the balloon. We then spent four hours tracking the balloon using GPS technology until it returned to earth. Fellow pupils had set up mission control in the school library and were also tracking it and analysing feedback from the weather sensors such as ascent rate, temperature and pressure changes. Southampton University, who were helping us launch the balloon, set up a live internet stream so our mission control could watch us launch the balloon live. It was great when we managed to retrieve the payload and camera and analyse the video footage.”
Headteacher, Mr Amos, said: “This project has captured the students’ imagination and demanded a high level of problem-solving skills to bring it to completion. The students were overwhelmed by the success of the project and are currently working on a film to show to the rest of the school and inspire them - and hopefully others as well."