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Thursday, 05 June 2014
Bolton School In Space - High Altitude Balloon Project
Following a highly successful tethered test launch on Friday 4th April 2014, a dedicated team of boys and staff from the Bolton School in Space project will very shortly travel down to Cambridgeshire to launch their high altitude balloon and scientific payload into space. The project has been two years in development and following final trials and testing, the team hope to launch their balloon soon. If the balloon is launched this weekend, there is a one-off opportunity to launch from Defford in Worcestershire; otherwise, they will launch from a privately operated site in the little village of Elsworth, nine miles west of Cambridge.
During the flight, which is expected to last anywhere between two and four hours, the balloon will ascend to the very edge of near space, an extreme and inhospitable environment. It will have to survive temperatures as low as -60°C and where the oxygen content of the atmosphere is down to less than 0.1% of what it is on the surface of the Earth. The capsule payload will contain two main components: a high resolution video camera capable of capturing 4K cinema quality footage, and a biological experiment designed to expose plant and vegetable seeds to the potentially higher levels of radiation at that altitude.
The balloon will continue to ascend until it reaches a critical “burst altitude”. At this point, the balloon will have expanded to anywhere between twenty and thirty feet in diameter. As soon as the balloon bursts, a parachute will be deployed and the capsule will slowly descend to Earth. Depending upon the jet stream and prevailing wind conditions, the landing zone could be anywhere up to 100km away from where it was launched. The balloon will be continuously tracked by GPS, and hopefully the capsule will come down over land and not in the North Sea! The capsule has been painted a bright fluorescent pink colour to aid retrieval in difficult terrain.
The viability of the launch is highly dependent upon local weather conditions at the launch site. The Bolton School in Space team is closely monitoring the weather patterns in both the Worcestershire and Cambridgeshire areas, and running flight prediction software. As soon as a window of opportunity presents itself, the team will travel down to either Defford or Cambridge at short notice. They are hoping to get the green light for launch sometime during the week commencing Monday 9th June 2014, if not before!
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