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Students prepare for big FANHAB launch

Students prepare for big FANHAB launch
Students prepare for big FANHAB launch

Five Fakenham Academy Norfolk students are closely monitoring weather forecasts, poring over maps of the region, and performing meticulous calculations - all in their own time after school - as they prepare to launch a High Altitude Balloon 33,000m into the Near Space region of the earth's atmosphere.

The students - who range in age from 12 to 16 - together with their IT teacher, Mrs 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 all set to launch the helium-filled latex balloon, which has been named "FANHAB 1", from Fakenham Academy Norfolk's playing fields during half-term (week beginning Monday 15th February).

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 from Near Space.

If the Fakenham Academy Norfolk team have got all of their calculations right, FANHAB 1 should be airborne for approximately 80 to 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 on the ground by a team of staff and parent volunteers in cars who will seek to locate the payload and return it to Fakenham Academy Norfolk with its images and tracking data intact.

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

Support is also being provided by teachers from Glebe House School in Hunstanton and other members of the Skycademy Team Stratus who are based in Cambridge and Peterborough.  These schools are also taking part in the Skycademy programme and will be launching their own balloons during the year.

The team ideally need a north or north-easterly wind so that FANHAB 1 is carried inland rather than out towards the North Sea.  If the prevailing winds are southerly then the team will seek to re-locate their launch to a site near Cambridge University or a site in Lincolnshire where a school has already carried out a successful launch which landed near March in Cambridgeshire.

Year 8 Fakenham Academy Norfolk student, Charlie de Jong Cleyndert, 13, said: "I got involved through computer club which I joined because I like coding.  I really like the idea of launching a balloon into Near Space. It's exciting."

Brandon Archer, 12, who is in 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 Sue Gray, who teaches IT at Fakenham Academy Norfolk and runs the after school computer club, commented:

"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.  It's pretty much cross-curricular and it has provided a great learning experience, as well as being a lot of fun.  The support we have received from Dave Akerman and the Raspberry Pi Foundation Education Team has been fantastic and we can't wait to launch now."

You can keep up to date with the very latest on FANHAB 1 on social media, by following @FANinfotech and searching for #FANHAB on twitter.