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Students win space race with high-flying design

Published on 20/09/17


Two Sir Isaac students have scooped the top prize in a space race after the craft they designed reached a staggering 33,000 metres.

Tom Briggs and Paul Lamberton built their craft as part of a challenge organised by educational charity Yellobric.

The Schools Space Race competition pitted them against four other schools in Norfolk - Flegg High, Ormiston CNS, Norwich School and Reepham High - as well as five schools in Africa.

An image taken by the on board camera
An image taken by the onboard camera

With help from Sir Isaac ICT staff Mark Dumpleton and James Hartley the pair put together a helium balloon fuelled ship that could safely carry a mini Raspberry Pi computer and camera high into the sky - and also survive the journey back down to earth.

They also had to program the computer to take photos of the journey, and calculate the right amount of gas to take the balloon as high as possible but without risking a flight time that could see it fall into the sea.

All five UK balloons were released at Elsworth, near Cambridge, which has permanent approval from the Civil Aviation Authority for the release of high altitude balloons.

In the end their unmanned craft reached 33,000 metres - around three times the height of a commercial airplane and a clear 3000 metres over their nearest rivals.

Tom Briggs said: "Winning was a bit down to luck, but we also put a lot of work into making sure everything was as light as possible. We also had to make sure the computer, the camera and the antenna would keep working."

The craft also carried a special 'Gravity Fox' mascot designed by students at their partner school, Bondzeni High School in South Africa, featuring an apple to represent Sir Isaac and a fox as an animal common to Norfolk.

The successful flight has earned the pair a £1000 prize from Norfolk renewable energy firm and competition sponsor Genatec, which will be spent on astronomy equipment for fellow students at Sir Isaac Newton Sixth Form.

The project was also supported by Research Councils UK and the Institute of Physics.