Flying high

Sixth-formers at Abingdon School have built and launched a high-altitude balloon which travelled to the edge of space

Abingdon School gathered at morning break recently to watch the launch of a high-altitude balloon named The Griffen, which has been designed and built by 12 lower-sixth physicists with guidance from European Astrotech. The balloon had been designed to climb to the edge of space (around 30,000m) and return to earth later that day. The boys tracked the balloon’s progress and were ready in a minibus to collect it from the landing site. The balloon landed between Standlake and Aston, around 12km from the school. The maximum height reached was 29,410m and the temperature at burst was -39.6 degrees C.

Speaking about the project, sixth-former Hugh Franklin, aged 16, said: “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.”

The balloon carried a payload with a variety of experiments. As well as the GPS module transmitting information on position over a radio link to the ground station, there were measurements of temperature, humidity and air pressure. The pupils designed experiments to study the change in colour of the sky (its blueness due to Rayleigh scattering), and also the change in UV levels with altitude. The sensors collecting this information were connected to a Raspberry Pi and along with video footage from two GoPros, there was a large amount of data to analyse.

One of the aims of the project was to inspire and educate pupils about space science and technology and over the 12 weeks the boys had to get to grips with the telemetry software, perform calculations to determine the amount of hydrogen gas required to lift the payload to the required height and also to design and build a stable payload. A wide spectrum of scientific disciplines from atmospherics through chemistry and physics to engineering were explored.

Footage from the balloon during its flight can be seen on the school’s website.

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