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Truro College students reach new heights

By West Briton  |  Posted: June 26, 2014

One of the amazing images captured during the Near Space Mission.

One of the amazing images captured during the Near Space Mission.

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DURING half term, 17 students launched a Near Space Mission from mid Wales.

The aim of the mission was to send a Raspberry Pi computer to high altitude in order to record sensor data and take photos and video of the curvature of the earth.

The mission was the result of work from over 50 students studying on the Level 3 Extended Diploma in Software Development during the past 18 months.

The setup consisted of a helium balloon, a parachute, two Raspberry Pi computers controlling sensors, cameras, a radio transmitter and a high definition video camera.

After the launch the payload was tracked using a radio receiver and the students and staff followed the flight in two college minibuses.

The payload reached an altitude of over 80,000 feet (15 miles) and was exposed to temperatures below -40 degrees centigrade.

Unfortunately after an hour and a half, contact was lost with the payload. Staff and students searched the predicted landing area but there was no sign of it. Eventually the search was abandoned and the students were forced to return to Cornwall. The journey back was full of positive discussions about what may have gone wrong and how it could be put right next time.

Then, at 6.22pm on June 5, out of the blue the backup phone responded to location requests and sent three text messages containing coordinates all within 10 metres of each other. The payload was recovered from Penmaen Back Caravan Park in mid Wales where the owners had taken nearly a week to recover the payload from a very large tree in their grounds.

On receiving the news of recovery Lucy French, a student and the project manager of the Near Space Mission said: "We are so pleased to get the payload back. A lot of hard work went into this and it has been an amazing learning experience. The pictures and video taken are incredible and a real reward for all the efforts made by the team."

Scott Gregory, the team leader for flight preparation, added: "This was such an amazing way to expand my programming skills. We were writing code to take pictures and to log data for a real project that would do something amazing and see something only astronauts get to see."

Computing lecturer Allyn Jefferies, who supported the project, said: "This is an amazing conclusion to what has been a massive undertaking by the students. The students who first started the project are now at university and the work they had undertaken and documented was handed over in September 2013. The Near Space Mission was project managed and developed by students from start to completion and we are really pleased to have recovered the payload."

Students have already started working on the next mission aiming for clearer data transmissions and more altitude.

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