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Pi-oneering club launches balloons into space on Open Day

May 16th, 2017

Five giant balloons were launched on a mission to space by 42 boys who have been working on the project since November last year.

The High Altitude Balloon (HAB) Club, run by 17-year-old Sam at Monmouth School, created precious payloads carrying GPS trackers, tiny Raspberry Pi computers, cameras and radios in weekly lunchtime sessions.

These were attached to their helium-filled balloons ahead of the launch on Open Day, in the hopes they would capture photographs from the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere.

The members from across the year groups were inspired to join the club after Sam spoke about his own fascinating achievements, funded by an engineering scholarship, in assembly.

Sam said: “The boys have spent every Friday break time working on this project – soldering, programming and putting their payloads together.

“Open Day visitors were interested in what we’d been doing, it’s quite a strange project to see and certainly a little wacky. People are always very enthused by the idea of sending something to the edge of space.”

The boys’ plan was to locate the balloons, along with their payloads, when they came back down to Earth.

However, hopes of seeing the images they’d collected were sadly dashed.

Sam continued: “The balloons travelled to the east. They did, however, overshoot their expected landing sites and all five balloons ended up deposited in the River Severn.

“We tracked them using radio for the entire flight and continued communicating with them while they floated along the river. We even managed to see a couple of them from the shoreline. It’s a shame but everyone had an exciting day.”

Despite the outcome, the boys enjoyed the launch and there is still a glimmer of hope the payloads will find their way home eventually.

“We chased the balloons across the countryside relying on radio communications to know where they were,” Sam added.

“It was wonderful watching everyone excitedly releasing their balloons and, while it was disappointing that we had a wet landing, it was fun watching them bob along the Severn. I expect we may receive some of them back eventually, as we wrote the school’s phone number on the boxes.

“Running the club has taught me that teachers don’t have it easy. I’ve certainly improved my public speaking and planning skills. I’ve also improved my ability to explain complicated ideas and concepts to people, which was a challenge due to the range of knowledge in the group.”

Throughout the year, HABS Club has taught pupils about wireless communications, soldering, physics which they wouldn’t usually learn until AS level, and advanced programming.

It has also united boys who may otherwise have never worked together or become friends.

One of Sam’s pictures from a previous launch

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