Fired into space by a team from Queen Elizabeth’s School in Wimborne, an intrepid spaceman reached dizzying heights in a flight that lasted over two-and-a-half hours.
The successful launch of the STEM project ‘Edge of Space’ came after several abortive attempts earlier this year, but it didn’t go quite as planned.
It took place on 15 October – the last day cleared by the CAA to make the attempt – when the team and their teachers assembled in the school playing fields. At T minus 20 minutes and counting, and with everybody in position, the countdown was halted when the Raspberry Pi computer communicating with the Hab Hub tracker system switched off without warning. Batteries were changed, connections checked but no fault could be detected. Over an hour later the unit came back on line. IT teacher Mr Paul Calvert was very concerned but decided to resume the countdown and go for launch.
Final checks were undertaken and the intrepid spaceman – an Action Man with payload – was released at precisely 12.21pm.
The payload and Action Man’s capsule were ripped away by the prevailing southerly wind as the chase teams scrambled to their vehicles for the pursuit. Following the spacecraft on the Hab Hub tracker at base was Ben Barnes and IT teacher Mr Nigel Poulton. All was going well; Action Man had just flown through 40,000ft travelling upwards at a rate of six metres per second. The internal temperature of the payload was down to 0.2C, the batteries were showing a steady 5.9v everything seemed to be going ‘A-okay’. Suddenly GPS contact with the payload was lost over Tidworth, west of Andover. The chase cars could now only track the carrier signal of the spacecraft. The project team were assisted by people on the Internet Relay Channel on Hab Hub who were also tracking the payload and had a good signal of the spaceman’s descent at Sunningwell, South West of Oxford. Unfortunately, they could only get a lock on the carrier but had no GPS information, so they didn’t know his exact position. The chase teams ditched the cars and carried on tracking by foot. They managed to DF (direction find) the signal minutes before it stopped when Action Man landed.
He landed at 3.05pm having flown for 2 hours 34 minutes. In that time he had managed to reach a height of 115,000ft.
After an hour of fruitless searching, no trace of the intrepid spaceman could be found and the teams retired to the Fox Inn on Boars Hill to see if they could get any news from the other trackers. There was no luck, so reluctantly they packed their gear away and started for home. Only later did they learn that the transmitter was still active and had they followed the exact direction of the last signal, they would have been able to reacquire the signal and home in on Action Man’s position. They also later discovered they were following a direct path to the payload but were approximately three miles short of the actual landing site.
The rest of the story began to unfold about 20 minutes later as they were driving home. A call was received by IT teacher Paul Calvert from Mike Newman, near Brighthampton, who said he had found the spacecraft in his field.
Mr Calvert raced back to recover the spaceman and was greeted by some curious adults and two very excited boys. Mike Newman explained that they wouldn’t normally go into that field until April next year, but they’d gone out that Saturday blackberry picking and had driven round the field in a tractor. He’d been with his daughter-in-law Gemma and her two sons Max and Jacob. It was whilst they were in the tractor that they spotted the bright gold covering of the spacecraft and the bright orange of the parachute lying on the grass.
When Mr Calvert was reunited with the intrepid spaceman, he discovered the payload electronics were still working and transmitting the lost carrier signal.
Mike and his family were fascinated by the project and were keen to see pictures from the video of the flight. Young Max (aged 5) also wrote an adventure story in his learning log and planned to talk about it in class. It is called ‘Max’s Spaceman Adventure,’ and has inspired some inquisitive minds to infinity and beyond.
Images and video clips of Action Man’s intrepid flight have been posted on Queen Elizabeth School’s Facebook page and on Twitter.