Fakenham has its own space shot

Alex Williams releases the balloon ANL-151016-132231001
Alex Williams releases the balloon ANL-151016-132231001
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Five students from Fakenham Academy are preparing to launch a high altitude balloon 33,000m into near space.

The students, aged 12 to 16, together with their IT teacher, Sue Gray, have joined the UK’s small but growing community of High Altitude Balloon (HAB) enthusiasts, thanks to the Raspberry Pi Skycademy initiative.

The group are set to launch the helium-filled latex balloon, which has been named “FANHAB 1”, from the playing fields during half-term from Monday.

The balloon’s payload, housed within a polystyrene box, will contain a Raspberry Pi computer, tracking boards and a camera which it is hoped will capture stunning images.

If the Fakenham team have got all of their calculations right, FANHAB 1 should be airborne for some 90 minutes before it reaches near space.

Because of the decreased air pressure at high altitude, the balloon will eventually burst and its payload will be gently parachuted back down to Earth.

The balloon will be being followed by a team of staff and parent volunteers in cars who will seek to locate the payload and return it to Academy with its images and tracking data intact.

There will be a team based at the Academy who will act as Mission Control to track it and help guide the chase vehicle. Images will be streamed back live and even if the payload is lost, the images are retrievable.

Support is also being provided by teachers from Glebe House School, Hunstanton, and other members of the Skycademy Team Stratus, from Cambridge and Peterborough.

The team ideally need a north or north-easterly wind. If the prevailing winds are southerly then the team will seek to relocate their launch to a site near Cambridge University or a site in Lincolnshire.

Year 8 student, Charlie de Jong Cleyndert, 13, said: “I really like the idea of launching a balloon into Near Space. It’s exciting.”

Brandon Archer, 12, Year 7, added: “I think it’s a really good experience. I’ve learned a lot about Raspberry Pis and what’s actually going to happen when we launch the balloon.

“We’ve been running through the plans and checking the weather a lot lately. I’m very excited, I can’t wait.”

Mrs Gray said: “The students have learned a huge amount, from understanding more about weather systems, to applying maths and science in calculating the right amount of helium the balloon will need and in working out how high it will travel, to the technology of tracking and telemetry, plus a lot of geography.”