Queen Mary's Grammar School students are one small step away from achieving the dream of their 'Beat Felix' project.
The Walsall school's 'Armstrong' probe reached a height of 38,915m before bursting on Saturday. The hydrogen-filled weather balloon was just 130m short of the altitude from which Felix Baumgartner jumped for his world-record freefall in 2012. The team have one more flight (this weekend) to attempt to go higher.
Before Saturday's flight the team received messages of support from high profile members of the space and science community, including UK astronaut Major Tim Peake, the UK Space Agency and TV presenter Dallas Campbell.
Not everything with the flight of 'Armstrong' went according to plan. Gusty winds made launching and predicting a flight course difficult operations, while the launch team also had to contend with a faulty gas valve when filling the balloon. The balloon's course was erratic in the windy weather, but finally came down in farmland in West Staffordshire. Unfortunately the chase team became stuck in traffic on the M6 and were not able to get close to the balloon as it neared landfall.
At the time of going to press the payload had not been located and retrieved.
However, project leader and maths teacher Adam Coghlan was delighted with the first high altitude flight. "The team not only set a new altitude record for Horizon (and QMGS) on their first flight but they also catapulted us up the World Altitude Rankings and attracted an impressive amount of publicity. The flight computer was steady as a rock throughout the flight and provided a superbly clear signal which was commented on by several members of the amateur radio community."
The team have one more chance to 'Beat Felix'. Their third and final flight takes place this Saturday (5th July) and is named after Commander Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut who rose to fame with his engaging tweets and photographs from the International Space Station. Hopes are high that 'Hadfield' can go that extra mile - well, 130 metres - to bring this year's project to a successful conclusion.
Rapid supports 'Project Horizon' by supplying key electronic components, tools and equipment.