Aberystwyth school launches space mission

A view of Earth showing clouds over water photographed during the Apollo 11 mission. Credit: NASA

A view of Earth showing clouds over water photographed during the Apollo 11 mission. Credit: NASA

10 June 2014

Pupils at Ysgol Gymraeg Aberystwyth are preparing to launch their very own space mission with the help of a robotics expert at Aberystwyth University.

Weather permitting, the mission will lift off from the School’s play ground between 9 and 10 in the morning on Thursday 12 June.

In preparation for the mission, the pupils have built a rocket to house the space capsule, and made little plasticine figures who will brave the arduous journey into space.

They have also been studying about space, the weather and about other similar launches, and have been working with animator Tim Allen to make animated short films of the intrepid space travellers climbing into the capsule and taking with them messages for Planet Earth.

Joining them on board will be an Eco-Schools representative carrying an Eco Schools Flag. Ysgol Gymraeg Aberystwyth is a Platinum Eco-School and the project is being filmed by EcoSchools Wales for a video which will be shown at the International Eco-Schools Operators Conference in Cardiff in December 2014, to mark 20 years of Eco-Schools internationally and in Wales.

Speaking ahead of the launch, Mr Clive Williams, Headmaster of Ysgol Gymraeg Aberystwyth said; “Ysgol Gymraeg Aberystwyth is proud to be the venue for this exciting event. The pupils had been studying work about space as part of the science curriculum and have had many and varied experiences whilst building the rocket as part of their craft work. They’ve created a logo in design and technology, studied the direction of the wind in geography and studied similar events through the medium of the internet.

“One of the pupils’ favourite stories is the story ‘Y Bobl Fach Wyrdd’ (Little Green People) and they look forward to seeing them leave the school in the direction of space. We hope they return safely!

“The School is grateful to the parents for their enthusiasm and to the University for all its support with this every special event”, he added.

The Mission

Using a helium-filled weather balloon, the mission is expected to reach an altitude of around 30,000 metres before falling back to earth.

Hanging from the balloon will be a polystyrene capsule fitted with two cameras, two GPS trackers and a small homemade computer that measures altitude, temperature and the motion of the balloon and transmits the information back to earth via a wireless link.

Using time lapse technology, the cameras are expected to provide several thousand images of the earth, as the balloon climbs to the very edge of the earth’s atmosphere.

Reminiscent of those stunning images taken during some of the early Apollo missions, the images are also expected to show how thin the earth’s atmosphere is in reality.

Technology for the mission has been developed by Dr Mark Neal, co-ordinator of the Intelligent Robotics Research Group at Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Mathematics, Physics and Computer Science, and a parent at the school.

Mark will be relaying live telemetry as the balloon climbs to around 10,000 metres. Once beyond the reach of satellites, he expects to lose touch with the balloon as it climbs to around 30,000 metres where it will burst before falling back to earth. He expects the whole mission to last between 3 and 5 hours.

Once back on the ground, a team will be on hand to find the capsule and return it to Mark who will be able to download the images and all the mission’s data.

All being well, the team should be able to track its location to within 30 metres using GPS, once it has landed. Based on current weather forecasts, Mark believes that will be somewhere in Mid Wales!

The mission has been developed by pupils, staff and parents at Ysgol Gymraeg Aberystwyth, with the support of Eco-Schools Wales, animator Tim Allen, Keith Morris Photography and Ultracomida.