Space balloon is out of this world

Photo taken by the Kesgrave children using the camera on the balloonStudents have been working with BT on a project that is quite simply - out of this world. Members of Kesgrave High School’s space club in Suffolk wanted to get a bird’s eye view of the edge of space.

So they decided to send a helium balloon 20 miles up into the edge of space to take a picture. The results are breath-taking.

Of course, deciding what they wanted to do was the easy part. Actually making it happen was going to prove a little trickier. That is, until John Bayle, engineering workforce management platform (EWMP) director at BT, got wind of the idea.

“When I heard about the project at a primary school presentation, I was excited to be able to offer the kind of GPS tracking that we do in EWMP to enable this project to be successful. Their previous launch made it to the edge of space but the camera went missing”, said John.

But as every space scientist knows, every giant leap begins with one small step. So John gathered together a team of BT volunteers, including Mike Ashwell and Clare Lawrence, at BT’s research centre at Adastral Park in Suffolk. It was here that the team met the students and planned their mission. This was the second year of the “Stratos” project so this launch was named “Stratos 2”.

Getting ready

It wasn’t simply a case strapping a camera to a balloon and crossing your fingers. They needed a way to track the balloon, retrieve the images from the on-board camera and ensure that their craft arrived safely back to Earth. After four months work, Stratos was ready for its flight in June 2011.

The solution used GPS tracking from BT and tracking specialist Trackaphone. The balloon's journey was broadcast live over the internet to Kesgrave High School and Rendlesham Primary School using 3G technology supplied by BT. This included live video streamed from a field in Cambridgeshire as well as a BT portal tracking the balloon's flight across East Anglia.

Dave Green, the science teacher from Kesgrave High School leading the project said: "What can I say - awesome! Lovely weather, both trackers worked flawlessly so we now have an excellent platform to develop Stratos 3 next year.

"A huge 'thank you' on behalf of Kesgrave High School Space Club to you all - the kids are buzzing as are many in school. It was fantastic to use BT's problem solving techniques to help a science project. For me, the real value was learning it isn't just about technology but about involving everyone - teachers, parents, community and other students.

"It was so much more than taking pictures from the edge of space, but the whole journey of how we got there,” he said.

You can find out more – and watch a video of this epic journey – by visiting http://www.projectstratos.com/.

You can also watch the YouTube clip.

The photo accompanying this story was taken by the Kesgrave children using the camera on the balloon.