Scenes from the Stratosphere
Wednesday, 11 June 2014
Bolton School In Space - High Altitude Balloon Project
The Bolton School In Space (BSIS) project has finally achieved lift off!
After several days of monitoring weather conditions following the final preparations, staff received word on Monday from the launch site in Elsworth, Cambridgeshire, that conditions would be ideal on Wednesday. Staff and students involved in the project packed their equipment into the minibus and waited with baited breath to receive final confirmation on Wednesday morning.
The day turned out hot and sunny, with some patchy clouds. With everything green for launch, six members of the BSIS team travelled down to Cambridgeshire: Mr Alec Jones, teachers Mr Chris Walker and Mr Graeme Butchart, and students James Whalley, Arran Davies and Alex Young. The launch site itself was in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by field and open countryside. The team arrived on schedule, and with the final checklists complete and the payload label prepared, they were able to launch as planned at 12.00 noon.
With the balloon in the air, the chase was on for the BSIS team! They followed the balloon using GPS, watching temperatures drop and speed increase to over 110kmph as it climbed up into the stratosphere.
The balloon reached a height of 108,000 feet, making this the 50th highest launch ever out of the UK, and the 75th highest worldwide!
However, as the balloon neared the pinnacle of its ascent, disaster struck and the team lost the GPS lock. Thankfully, it was still transmitting a signal and they were still able to track the balloon via radio direction finding. However, this made the pursuit much more challenging as the capsule started to fall.
The capsule was in the air for about two and a half hours in total. It eventually landed and continued to transmit a signal, but the GPS signal was still not working. So the real challenge of the day began: finding the payload using a radio receiver and large aerial to narrow down the location!
Nukes, Minefields and Mustard Gas
The team eventually located the capsule at around 6.00pm. However, the complication did not end there!
The capsule had in fact come down behind the fence at RAF Barnham, a satellite camp of RAF Honington near Thetford. As the BSIS team neared the final location, they began to see Ministry of Defence signs, warning of nuclear bunkers on one side of the road, minefields on the other, and a mustard gas storage site along the way!
Although the capsule was tantalisingly close to the edge of RAF Barnham’s land, the team wisely decided that it would be better to knock on the front gate rather than just nip over the fence!
They explained the situation, and were given an escort to the site, where the capsule was found hanging from a tree. After some consideration on how to get the capsule and parachute down, they were able to finally recover the payload.
Mr Jones said, “I am delighted that this went so well, as it has been two years in the planning. It’s a real boy’s own adventure story. The footage we got from outer space was stunning. The high altitude ballooning community has been very complimentary about our initial launch and were able to track the rocket by GPS as it moved across Google maps on their screens. We hope this is just the start of Bolton School in Space, and will be meeting with the boys shortly to discuss our next adventure!”
View a Flickr gallery of photos documenting the Bolton School in Space Project here.