“Amazing” near-space balloon launched from St Albans school

Hwoyee flight from Sandringham School. Picture: Huw Hopkins.

Hwoyee flight from Sandringham School. Picture: Huw Hopkins. - Credit: Archant

All eyes were skyward to see the launch of a near-space balloon from a school field in St Albans this week (March 16).

Students at Sandringham School created Hwoyee 500, a helium balloon which floated up 100,000ft to the edge of space, took live pictures of the curvature of the Earth, and beamed them down every three minutes.

As it rose and air pressure thinned, it expanded, eventually bursting when it was about 5.6m wide and parachuting down to Earth.

Calculations were slightly off – Hwoyee was filled with too little helium and went too far up without popping, but thankfully was not lost to space.

About 2,000 pupils from Sandringham, and Wheatfields Juniors and Infants, came out to watch.

Some students even jumped in a minibus to follow Hwoyee’s GPS all the way to Felixstowe – how far it and in which direction it went was all down to wind conditions.

Had it been sent up during Storm Doris on February 23, the heavy winds would have pushed the balloon to Cologne in Germany.

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The winds were slightly stronger than expected, and in fact it landed 2km off the coast, in the sea, and is yet to be recovered. But the project did not lose any data.

Still, Sandringham appealed to the local newspaper in Felixstowe, to be reunited with the balloon as a memento of the achievement.

The school had a three week window, given to them by the Civil Aviation Authority, to launch Howyee - they waited until there were near-perfect conditions for flight before launching.

If predictions showed it would go over airports, over London, or over the English Channel, Hwoyee had to stay put.

Seventy students from Sandringham School spent the last month planning the launch and building the balloon with some equipment loaned from Raspberry Pi Computers.

In January last year, Sandringham students were the first to speak to astronaut Tim Peake on the International Space Station via amateur radio.

Director of learning in computer science at Sandringham, Mark Allday, has been coordinating the project: “It’s inspiring awe and wonder in the students, and I thought it would be very difficult to rival the excitement of last year with Tim Peake, but I think we have.”

Joking, he added: “But I always say, we are bringing it back down to Earth.”

He said: “It was successful in many regards, and it was an absolutely amazing experience for all the students.

“The question is, what next? Is there anything the students can’t do?”

This event was organised to coincide with British Science Week.