Primary Computing and PC Review reach the edge of space

I am very pleased to announce that the PC Review / Primary Computing high altitude balloon launch successfully took place on Wednesday the 30th of October!

After launching from Mold in North Wales at around 10:00am, the balloon (named the Manchester Meteor) ascended to approximately 90000 feet as it travelled East across the country. It reached apogee and burst somewhere over the Peak District before descending by its parachute to land just outside Chesterfield at about 12:30pm.

The payload, constructed from cheap modelling foam and Gaffer Tape, consisted of a standard Android phone running a low cost tracking app and a Go Pro camera to continuously film the ascent and decent (and a camping hand-warmer to keep it all warm!) . Sat on top of the payload were the Lego figures of myself and Ian Cunningham of PC Review, as pictured below, I’m on the left!

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Filling the balloon went smoothly, as did joining the payload and parachute to the balloon. Here’s a couple of pictures of the final assembly for launch.

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Here’s a video of launch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kTay1ydwxs

As it reached its maximum altitude, from the video footage of the balloon bursting, it appears that my Lego-self was knocked from the top of the payload and was only saved from a very long fall by a safety cord we’d tied around his ankle! It was great to see him ‘in shot’ swinging by this cord and appearing to complete a Lego-sized space walk :)

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Here is a video of burst at apogee http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDfAMLK0_2c

Whilst we can see from the footage that this is what was happening at the edge of space now, at the time we were sat at Ian’s house patiently waiting for the phone to send its location for us to track. For some reason this took far longer than expected and we were starting to conclude that we wouldn’t see the payload again… Then all of a sudden we got an email through sent from the phone with full coordinate data that we plugged into Google Maps to reveal its location – a field next to a sewage works and a lake in Chesterfield!

After nipping over the Peak District in convoy (in case we had to split up to search a larger area) we were very (very, very) relieved to see that it had just missed the sewage works and lake to land in the corner of an easily accessible field – here’s a photo of two very happy guys :)

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Here’s a video of the landing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvsD9_nUJbM

So, with no specialist equipment and minimal engineering knowledge, and for just a couple of hundred pounds, we are proud to present our pictures of our planet, Earth!

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This really would make a fantastic upper KS 2 & KS 3 science project and I will publish an article soon detailing how different areas of the forthcoming 2014 Science Curriculum could be covered via engagement in the project.

5 responses on “Primary Computing and PC Review reach the edge of space

  1. Hello there Dr Chippindall. First of all, I congratulate both you and your partner for the success of the Meteor. The pictures are really inspiring. I am a High School student in my last year, and I am very inspired by this project of yours. I would like to know what gas did you use inside the balloon and where could the balloon by found. I am really up to sending my own lego-man up in space. Thank you!

    • Shameem, I recommend that you use balloon helium (60/40 helium/air mix). It is readily available and won’t explode.
      I also suggest that you don’t use a mobile phone for tracking. They are reliable as phones but unreliable as HAB payload tracking device. You are much better going for a GSM tracker like CAttraQ and a SPOT personal locator beacon for your first flight. Also you should have at least two trackers in case one fails. If you need more information on HAB flights then take a look at my blog.

  2. This looks like a fun first attempt. Here are a few pointers to improve your flight. Tracking: Mobile phones make bad trackers (strictly locators). They are unreliable and don’t work at all outside mobile phone coverage areas. Personal locator beacons are much more reliable. SPOT is a good one. There is also radio tracking for the more experienced and skilled in electronics. A GSM locator (like your phone) makes a good back-up. Dedicated GSM locators are better than phones. CattraQ is a good example. CAA permission – it would be good to mention this.

    For your future projects I am happy to let you test fly a skyprobe flight computer which can record temperature, pressure, humidity and several other weather parameters if you like. It also has a suitable GPS receiver to show burst height and ground track. Regards Chris – Balloon News

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