As previously advertised I recently did a launch for Purley Infants School to help raise funds, and of course to encourage an interest in science and technology. The project was mentioned by the Reading Post before launch and today got onto their front page.
Philip Allen, who has children at the school and is in the PTA, asked if I’d be willing to help with the launch, and I was glad to do so. He wanted to fly a soft toy “Kingsley” which is Reading FC’s lion mascot, and I suggested that we drop Kingsley from the flight to land under his own parachute. Kingsley carries the number 1871 which is the year that the club was formed, so I set the release altitude to be exactly 18.71 miles (30,110 metres). Philip gave Kingsley to me for me to add a tracker (so we can track his descent) and I made a large foam polystyrene box to carry the main tracker, a balsa wood support for Kingsley, and some science experiments chosen by the children. This went off to the school for them to decorate, and here’s the complete assembly:
In the end, there were 2 flights and 3 balloons used! The first balloon escaped just before launch, when the line to it snapped. A combination of some strong wind, a lot of lift from the balloon, and a fairly thin line meant that the lifting force exceeded the breaking strain, and the balloon went up on its own very rapidly indeed!
Fortunately I had a spare balloon and more gas, so a short while later we tried again, but with stronger cord!
After launching we chased the flight into West Sussex. The payloads separated exactly on time, and we decided to chase the main payload first as it had a GoPro camera on board. We parked up near the landing spot, and then walked along a public footpath but when we got to where we thought it was, it couldn’t be seen! After a short whil Philip spotted it in the tree above us! It was too high to reach so we went back to the car to collect some equipment to bring the payload down!
After that we headed off into deepest darkest West Sussex to where Kingsley had landed. There we met the landowner and after a short conversation he was very happy to come and help us retrieve Kingsley from one of his fields:
So at this point, despite the lost first balloon, everything looked good – Kingsley separated as planned and both payloads were recovered safely. However, when we checked the footage on the camera (GoPro Hero 3 Silver) there was nothing from the flight – it stopped working during the launch preparations! Well, there was only one thing for it – to launch again. So this happened the following weekend, this time with a GoPro Hero 2 camera instead. And this time, we got great footage from throughout the flight:
The flight path this time took it south-west, to a place called Chilbolton. If you search for images of Chilbolton on the internet, most of the hits will be of complicated drop circle patterns in a field near the radio observatory. Well, that’s where our flight landed! So we managed to land a UFO in a crop circle field – just what they’ve been looking for all these years! OK, that’s not what they actually do there – the dish is for weather forecasting and analysis – but it would make a great story!
Chilbolton has a nature reserve and that turned out to be the best (well, only) way for us to approach the landing spot. So we parked up there, and then set out on foot with my phone showing the distance and direction to the landing position. On the way we had a great view of the large radio dish:
The payload wasn’t visible from the path, but was recovered anyway: