Near Space Balloon Launch


Monitoring our locating devices now to retrieve the on-board pictures.

On Wednesday 28th April Robert Owen Academy was successful in its second launch attempt to send a meteorology balloon up to space. We went for an early morning launch as that would give us the best chance with low surface winds on our site at Holme Lacy. Staff were on site from 8.30 to set up while students remained at our Blackfriars Road site to ensure the live feed was working and record footage of the initial ascent.

We launched successfully at a little past 10am and I watched it up into the clouds. It was a great feeling as it was the culmination of almost 8 months of planning and preparation. It was true teamwork involving students from across the school in an extra-curricular lunchtime project.

Students and staff were able to track the package until we lost signal over Symonds Yat at 12.30 during the descent. It is likely that the parachute was still descending at this point with our camera safely on board. The signal did not come back, so we suspect that it is in the Forest of Dean or Wye Valley AONB. We’ve been in contact with the AONB and Forest of Dean ranger staff to ask them to keep an eye out for a bright orange parachute with a polystyrene package underneath and appeal to the general public to report any sighting to us at the school by phone on 01432 513 120 or through email or by sending us a Tweet. There is a letter attached (written by the students, of course!) with all our contact details so we can arrange for its return.

We are already thinking about further near space projects for next year. So far ideas include collaborations with a local amateur CB radio group to see if we can use radio communication rather than the microwaves used by mobile phones, including probes so we can track conditions such as temperature and pressure during ascent and if tracking technology improves, Mrs. Mulkern would like to see if cress seeds will still germinate after being sent to the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere.

“Or we might do something completely different! The important part for me is to have an ongoing extra-curricular project that is close to a real life work scenario including budget, time and resource constraints so that students can learn how to work together to make something happen. I rather fancy setting up a soap making business with the students, but we’ll have to wait and see!”


The sky’s the limit – Near Space project set for Take 2!

Following the postponement of the initial launch due to adverse weather conditions at Holme Lacy launch control last week, young scientists at the Robert Owen Academy are all systems go for a second attempt on Wednesday 22nd April.  We aim to launch at 9.30am and will live stream from then.

Atmospheric conditions are set to be ideal for the release of the 3 cubic meter capacity weather balloon which will carry the digital camera and GPS tracking equipment up to an altitude in excess of 30,000 metres, or 30 kilometres.

Lead teacher Amy Mulkern said “Although last week’s postponement was disappointing, it has given the students time to further refine aspects of the equipment module which should mean the sky really is the limit”.

A live feed of the launch and images from the flight will be broadcast here, with as live as we can get reportage here


So near and yet so far….

Robert Owen Academy’s Near Space project came within minutes of a successful launch on Wednesday but students and staff had to abort the launch attempt due to high cross wind at Holme Lacy mission control.

Although disappointing, Lead Science Teacher Amy Mulkern, said that there were a number of valuable lessons learnt for all concerned.  “It would have magic if things had worked out perfectly on our initial attempt but so often these things don’t …especially when dealing with space science!”  Although the wind conditions hampered the launch, technical equipment functioned well with live web-streams being viewed by other students working at the academy’s Blackfriars Street base.

The project team will be meeting later today to identify a new launch date, which could be as early as next Wednesday.  “Once we have a new date and cleared things with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) …it’s all systems go for Take 2” said Mrs Mulkern.

Watch this space for regular updates


As live as we can get reportage here

Subject to signal coverage at the launch venue

Testing Parachute landing system

Near Space Mission for Hereford School

Students at the Robert Owen Academy will be launching a near space mission in response to a challenge laid down by their new Head of Science, Amy Mulkern.

“Send me a picture of the Earth, taken from space,” she said when she started at the new free school in September 2015.  “Go on – you know you can!”

Several months later and the Robert Owen Near Space Project is in its final planning stage toward the successful launch of a meteorology balloon with camera, GPS tracking and mobile phone providing live video stream of the initial ascent.

“This has been a great thing to do in school.” said Y11 student Declan Kinsella, “First we thought she just meant download a picture off the internet.  When we realised she meant that she wanted us to get a camera up in to space to send back images we were like – is she serious?”

Students worked in collaboration with the Science Technician, Rui Noutel on the project which saw them working in diverse teams to tackle problems as varied as searching for helium suppliers and live stream hosting through to fundraising and calculating the rate of descent and force of impact.

The balloon will ascend approximately 20 miles into the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere where the lack of pressure will cause the balloon to burst.  A parachute will then deploy and carry the insulated package safely to the ground.  It will take about 4 hours in total. Live streaming allows students and other interested parties to watch the first 2 hours of the ascent.  GPS tracking systems will allow for the package to be tracked and hopefully recovered.  Depending on wind speed and direction the parcel could drift up to 300 miles. Permission has been obtained from the Civil Aviation Authority.

When asked about the project, Mrs Mulkern said; “We’re now doing that very British thing of waiting on the weather!”

Updates will be released on the Robert Owen Academy twitter feed and website.  If necessary, local community groups will be contacted once the position of the parcel is known.

Robert Owen Academy would like to thank the following for their support with this project:  The Balloon Display Company & Party Shop, Hereford; GM Polystyrene, Hengoed; Sarah Hill and Linda Scott, STEM support; Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service.