University of Strathclyde students send craft into near space

A team of final year Electrical and Mechanical Engineering students at the University of Strathclyde are believed to have become the first in the UK to design and launch an advanced craft (otherwise known as a payload) into near space, propelled by a large helium balloon. The payload was launched on Wednesday 6th April from Douglas Ewart High School in Newton Stewart and was able to measure, record and transmit environmental data and images of the Earth. It was safely returned to Earth with the aid of a parachute and was recovered in Northumberland National Park in an undamaged and reusable state.

This successful project captured amazing images of the Earth, with the payload reaching an altitude of 28.1 km. It operated despite experiencing extreme temperatures of -57 °C and 0.01 bar. Two methods were used to track the flight and ensure a safe recovery. The first tracking system was a GPS module whose position (along with other data) was transmitted to a radio base station within the University of Strathclyde. This worked so long as the station had line of sight with the payload, so a portable radio was used at the launch site to get information from the payload as it rose. The second tracking system was a GPS phone which updated its position to the internet via an application. As it relied upon the 3G network, this worked only at low altitude but successfully allowed the payload to be found accurately upon landing.

The components on board the payload were controlled using a microcontroller with flight software allowing the payload to detect:

  • Low battery voltage (the microcontroller was able to turn off many components to conserve battery life)
  • Landing
  • Freefall
  • Whether the payload had left a certain area

The payload served as an example of how to reliably collect atmospheric data in extreme conditions and how to successfully track and recover a payload at extreme range. The students also demonstrated that high altitude balloons can be used as a relatively inexpensive platform for testing other space technologies, such as CubeSat or conducting physics experiments in freefall. It is hoped that future projects will build upon the success of this project to explore these new frontiers.

Key Flight information

Flight Duration 1 hour 49 minutes
Ground Track Distance 147.3 km
Maximum Altitude Achieved 28.1 km
Minimum External Temperature -57.1 °C
Minimum Internal Temperature -11.3 °C
Minimum Pressure 1.52 kPa
Atmosphere Transcended 98.5 %
Average Ascent Rate 6.5 m/s
Peak Descent Rate 33 m/s
Landing Speed 6 m/s

More information about the project can be found on the group’s website:


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