In 2014 two groups of schools launched passengers 30,000 metres up into near space using large balloons filled with helium. At that height the air is very thin and the temperature -50 Celcius. The sky is the black of space.
Children planned every aspect of the missions from choosing the launch sites to calculating the balloon size needed. They worked out how to operate the tracking and data logging equipment and designed the payload box. They inflated the balloon, counted down released and helped track down the payload box. Nearspace launches engage a whole school in working toward the mission.
Coalway Junior School in the Forest of Dean are preparing to launch a Quail's egg in their Spacetacular Eggventure mission in April 2015. For a flavour of how a nearspace mission can engage children in real world problem solving see some of the preparations on their school blog here.
How does it support learning?
There are many different learning pathways to explore from the project. Maths, science and geography are obvious areas. There are real world calculations to do on Forces -understanding of the need for opposing forces to be unbalanced in order for the balloon to rise. It provides a real world context for studying data -the mission will produce a large data set that children can analyse in order to draw conclusions about the height and lowest temperature reached. It provides an excellent starting point for learning about space. The balloon does not go into space and we can immediately make connections and comparisons with 'real' space.
How do we do it?
We use a balloon filled with helium. At launch the balloon is about the size of a washing machine. It needs 3 cubic metres of helium and can lift a payload of 900 grammes. The payload can include:
How will the mission work?
How much notice do I need?
To get authorisation for a flight from your school requires a minimum of 30 days. Missions work best if there is plenty of time for children (and teachers) to plan and prepare so I would recommend at least six weeks notice.
What is the cost?
The full cost of the launch is £1500. This includes everything needed to run a mission:
I am happy to work with clusters of schools to allow the cost to be shared.
About Dan Warner
I am a primary teacher and former local authority ICT advisor. I now work independently, teaching, providing CPD and tinkering with exciting creative and inventive possibilities around the new Computing curriculum.
There are learning experiences in school that children remember forever. Why not make one of those, 'that time we sent a balloon into near space'?
"It was the best thing I've ever done" Y6 child
You've given us all truly incredible ever lasting memories" Dan Port, Y6 teacher, Meadowside Primary School