Pupils reach edge of space


It’s not every day that students get the chance to send a high-altitude balloon into space – but that’s what a group of year 12 physicists at an Oxfordshire boys’ school did recently.

Twelve pupils from Abingdon School designed and built the space balloon themselves – with expert guidance from European Astrotech, a leading space company. 

Then, watched by the rest of the school, they launched the balloon during morning break, tracking its progress across the countryside.

The balloon, known as The Griffen (after the school’s emblem), was designed to climb to the edge of space (around 30,000 metres) and return to earth the same day. Sure enough, it reached a height of 29,410 metres and landed in farmland seven miles from the school.

The idea behind the 12-week project was to inspire and educate pupils about space science and technology. In the process it enabled them to get to grips with everything from telemetry software to the amount of hydrogen gas required for lift-off.

The boys also gained knowledge of a range of scientific disciplines, including atmospherics, engineering, chemistry and physics.

The balloon carried a variety of experiments. As well as the GPS module (which transmitted information on the balloon’s position), it was able to measure temperature, humidity and air pressure.

The pupils designed experiments to study the changes in the colour of the sky and in UV levels as altitude increases. The sensors collecting this information were connected to a Raspberry Pi, which gave the students a huge amount of data to analyse.

Student Hugh Franklin, 16, told SecEd: “It has been an enormous learning curve, from frustrations when some designs didn’t work to the excitement of the launch and all the hard work coming together. It’s been well worth it.”

CAPTION: Lift-off: Students prepare the balloon, including a Lego figure holding the school emblem. The balloon is also seen touching space (Photos: Abingdon School)



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