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Mission accomplished for 'Project Horizon'

Mission accomplished for 'Project Horizon'
A school's dream to send a balloon into 'Near Space' was finally, thrillingly realised last Saturday.

After three cancelled launches, the team behind 'Project Horizon' from Queen Mary's Grammar School in Walsall were successful in launching their helium filled weather balloon beyond the Earth’s breathable atmosphere. 'Horizon 2' reached an altitude of 32km (20 miles) and the payload of camera and sensors was successfully retrieved with the contents intact. Most exciting of all, the on-board camera captured hundreds of images and HD video footage of the balloon's journey, which the team are now reviewing. 

The team has released one of the spectacular images taken by the Horizon 2 camera (right), clearly showing the Isle of Wight and Cherbourg in northern France.

The team of sixth form pupils, supervised by Mathematics teacher Adam Coghlan, could not have asked for better weather conditions on Saturday: warm and dry, with clear skies. However, there was a dramatic turn of events early in the day when every flight path forecast suggested the balloon drifting back and forth across Birmingham, with the payload landing in a built-up area, making retrieval difficult if not impossible. Mr Coghlan was quickly able to switch the launch site from their school in Walsall to a village in Oxfordshire 100 miles away, from where the balloon was expected to follow a more settled course over rural areas.

It proved a good decision, as the team were able to track the balloon as it descended and chased it by car to the landing site in countryside near Basingstoke.

"It has been a long road to get here but the experience has been incredible", said Mr Coghlan. "The team were so nervous as we carried the payload back to the car - had it worked? Had the cameras functioned? Did the lense mist up at altitude despite all the research and planning that went into avoiding that? The team were elated and the atmosphere was thick with excitement as we watched back the footage."

"As the pupils watched the beautifully clear high definition footage it dawned on some of them (who will soon be setting off for University), that this was a legacy they would be leaving the school, they would always be the first team to do this and they would always be known for it. The team arrived back at Walsall, sunburned, exhausted but triumphant."

It was all a huge relief to the team after an incredibly frustrating experience the previous weekend, when a third launch had to be aborted (after bad weather had prevented two missions in March). A problem with the on-board camera delayed the launch in what appeared to be perfect weather conditions. By the time the equipment was ready the wind had picked up to such an extent that the balloon was difficult to fill and release, while there was also a problem with the helium canister equipment.

The pupils used key STEM skills across every aspect of the project, from programming, logistics and engineering to sponsorship and publicity. Rapid donated programming hardware and other components to the project, which demonstrated the incredible things that can be achieved with a small budget, the help of some committed supporters and above all the skill, knowledge, effort and drive of the pupils of Queen Mary's Grammar School.

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