£600 grant funds high-altitude balloon for school

‘An Institute of Physics grant helped us take flight’

‘I applied to the Institute of Physics School Grants Scheme when seeking funds to launch a high-altitude balloon. The application process took only a short amount of time, and I applied for the maximum amount of £600 to contribute to our total cost of £700. I soon found out that we’d been successful.

The aim of the project was to launch a high-altitude balloon carrying experiments from our own school, as well as from our Multi Academy Trust partner and feeder primary schools. It would also give us the opportunity to photograph the curvature of the Earth from around 30km.

We ran a competition to name the mission and once the name, “Space Seraph”, was chosen the mission was rolled out to local primary schools. The uptake was very good, with pupils sending in a wide array of interesting experiments to be taken up on the balloon. These included a memory card of photos to see if it would survive, a digital watch to find out if time was affected, and cress seeds to compare with a control batch.

The mission launched at 9:30am on 29 July 2017, with clearance from local air traffic control. It was due to land near the town of Matlock at around 11:45am but sadly no communication was made with either tracking device and a radio appeal was broadcast for residents to keep a look out for the payload. In the following weeks staff and students continued to search an area of almost 35sq km at weekends to no avail.

All hope was lost until 18 May 2018, when we received a phone call from a farmer near Buxton, where a calf had been found chewing the parachute that morning! We collected the remains and I was able to retrieve data from the black box and GoPro camera. Unfortunately both had failed just short of 2.5 hours into the mission. At the time of failure of the black box the balloon was at 38.7km altitude and accelerating upwards. The camera failed shortly afterwards at an estimated altitude of 40km. Footage from the camera has been edited and put onto YouTube, and all of the primary school experiments were still identifiable.

The students were disappointed at the initial outcome but this year’s discovery has reignited their interest in the project and the footage has been met with great enthusiasm. It has also no doubt encouraged a greater interest in STEM.’

Mike Perkins, Physics and Astronomy Technician, Long Eaton School, Nottingham, Derbyshire (1,250 pupils)