Sunday 23 July 2017

Lost science balloon on Isle of Man

Pupils from St Andrew's Academy in Paisley launched a helium filled weather balloon that was supposed to land in Dumfriesshire
Pupils from St Andrew's Academy in Paisley launched a helium filled weather balloon that was supposed to land in Dumfriesshire

A school science experiment feared lost at sea has turned up unscathed on the Isle of Man.

Pupils from St Andrew's Academy in Paisley launched a helium filled weather balloon yesterday as part of Project Helios that was supposed to travel to the edge of the atmosphere before returning to land in Dumfriesshire.

The balloon was carrying a payload of experiments including a cactus, GPS tracking devices and cameras.

It was being tracked by mission leader and sixth year pupil Lewis Campbell before the signal was lost and the balloon was feared blown out to sea.

But the GPS came back on when the balloon landed on the Isle of Man today, where it was collected by a local vicar.

Lewis said: "There were so many highs and lows as we chased the balloon. It hadn't been climbing as fast as predicted so when the signal faded we thought it was lost at sea with no chance of retrieving it. I was sure we'd just lost seven months of work.

"We couldn't believe it when we got a 'ping' from the east coast of the Isle of Man. The balloon had been carried there by the jet stream. It was incredible. I worked out that the balloon only had a 0.55% chance of landing anywhere on the Isle of Man.

"We immediately contacted the police on the Isle of Man and Diane Marchmont, the vicar at St John's. The balloon had landed close to her church. Her husband, John, went and retrieved it and the payload is completely intact. I'm on a real high.

"St John's was pretty much the safest place it could land because the TT Races are on at the moment."

The helium-filled balloon reached an altitude of 28,000m (91,863ft), regarded as 'near space'. The cactus in the balloon will now be compared to one kept in the school to measure the impact of the journey on plants.

Project Helios was set up to promote the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

St Andrew's head teacher Kevin Henry said: "This project has involved a huge amount of work. The pupils attended a six-week space bootcamp to design the payload. This type of experiment shows how accessible space is these days and shows young people the future and its possibilities.

"Lewis has been a star in terms of his levels of organisation. This has been a great project which has involved pupils across the whole school. Overall it has been seven months of hard work which has included getting permission from air traffic control at Glasgow Airport for our launch."

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