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Before humans took to the skies in metal tubes powered by jet engines, there was a gentler mode of transport that we used to conquer the skies: the humble balloon.
After the success of last year’s launches, we are giving you another opportunity to blaze a trail across the sky and become a pioneer of aviation with the return of Skycademy, our High Altitude Ballooning (HAB) training programme.
Skycademy is a FREE, two-and-a-half day CPD event that provides experience of HABing to UK-based educators, demonstrating how it can be used as an engaging teaching tool. We’ll help you take ballooning to a whole new level (literally), where the hot air of Victorian era ballooning is replaced with space-age Helium to send your balloon soaring into the stratosphere at altitudes of up to 35 km. Fun fact: that’s around three times the cruising altitude of a Boeing 747!
Attached to the HAB is the payload consisting of a Pi-In-The-Sky GPS tracker board (developed by the wonderful Dave Akerman and Anthony Stirk), and a camera module, both controlled by a Raspberry Pi. You will use these elements to capture the balloon’s epic voyage and collect data to use back in your classroom.
Read more about last year’s adventures, mishaps, and balloons that were lost somewhere over the North Sea here.
At this point you might be thinking: “That sounds pretty cool, but I’m new to ballooning and nervous about launching into our airspace. Do we just get the kit and roll with it or do we get training?”
Enter Skycademy. Thirty lucky attendees will be guided through the steps to running a launch and, weather permitting, get hands-on experience of a real flight, so you’ll have all the experience you need before taking it back to the classroom. The event is free to attend and will be held from 8–10 August 2016. While the course is based in Cambridge, launch day will require you to travel to the launch site and then drive to recover your payload.
Day 1: Planning and workshop sessions on all aspects of HAB flights.
Day 2: Each team launches their payload, tracks, follows and recovers it.
Day 3: Teams gather together for plenary morning.
Sharing the fun
Attendees are supported throughout the course by experienced HAB enthusiasts and the Raspberry Pi Education Team. However, the 2.5 days of training is only the start of a longer process where educators are expected to run launches at their own schools. Skycademy attendees will therefore receive the support and equipment needed to achieve this as part of a twelve-month programme. The ultimate aim is to get young people excited and inspired by the project, and about all the STEM skills around it. A great example of this came from a successful launch by Queen Margaret’s School for Southbank Centre’s Women of the World Festival 2015:
As part of WOW 2016, a girls school will use weather balloons to send a small payload into near space, at altitudes of around 30km, where atmospheric temperature drops to -50C. The satellite carries a Raspberry Pi computer transmitting images of the WOW hash tag and the curvature of our planet.
Launch Day Butterflies
Seeing your HAB ascend majestically into the sky is both exciting and nerve-wracking. Skycademy graduate Sue Gray knows this feeling all too well after she launched at Elsworth, Cambridgeshire in May 2016:
“It was quite scary letting it go! Once it was let loose, there was no turning back. If anything had been forgotten, it would stay that way! The balloon and payload sailed off into the bright blue sky and grew smaller and smaller as it flew away. A fantastic sight indeed.
Then it was time to pack up the launch box, wish the other teams good luck and set off on the chase. A quick phone call to Mr Verma confirmed that he was receiving the telemetry from the payload and could see it moving across the map.
We got to Bourne a little ahead of the payload but…something was wrong. It seemed to be hanging in the air just to the east of Peterborough and we hadn’t received any telemetry for over twenty minutes. We stopped to take stock (and grab some food and drinks), Mr Verma confirmed that he too was not seeing any movement although he’d seen the balloon change to a parachute on the tracker – indicating a burst!”
After tracking the payload to a general area and searching the surrounding farmland, the team had to give up the search. As luck would have it, someone continued searching on their behalf and tracked it down!
FANHAB is found!! Our payload stopped completely but it was joined wiv Steve’s & his sprung into action again & he tracked it! @LegoJames
These are just some of the ups and downs you can expect from a launch. Sounds like fun right? Ready to get involved?
People we are looking for:
- UK-based educators who want to run their own High Altitude project with young people should apply.
- Community members who want to help or support the educator launches, please comment below.