Airbus Defence and Space

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A journey to the edge of space

A high-altitude balloon at 100,000 feet above the Earth.

Apprentices at Airbus Defence and Space’s Portsmouth site in the United Kingdom put a high-altitude balloon (HAB) into space and brought back a photo of the curvature of the Earth to prove it reached its destination.

The project began in mid-August 2010 when the six young apprentices – Luke Taylor, Matt Ballam, Sam Rees, Tom Biddlecombe, Tim Richardson and Nathan Mills – began work on the balloon and its payload. For the first phase they were asked to split into two teams and were pitted against each other to be judged for the best design. The teams called themselves ‘Exosphere’ and ‘Hermes’.

The teams ‘Exosphere’ and ‘Hermes
Team 'Exosphere' (L-R: Luke Taylor, Sam Rees and Matt Ballam) Team 'Hermes' (L-R: Tom Biddlecombe, Tim Richardson and Nathan Mills)

Both teams utilised new skills over the course of the challenge, looking at risk management, engineering drawing, materials research and design, time management and budgetary constraints. They found that there is a widely accepted design for HABs and only their respective team approach to the project differed with both teams choosing the same cameras and software but varying slightly on their parachute deployment design.

Following a presentation of their designs to Airbus Defence and Space Ltd’s Managing Director Colin Paynter and Chief Technical Officer Patrick Wood in August, the two teams merged to become Aeros, taking the best ideas from each design forward to the build stage of the project. Patrick told the teams: “Colin and I were very impressed with both teams’ solutions and it was almost impossible to choose between the two designs as they both included excellent ideas. We would like to suggest that you merge the two designs to give the best outcome during the flight challenge. Well done!”

Aeros’ balloon was launched from Churchill College, Cambridge, UK. As the helium-filled balloon rose during the flight it expanded due to the decreasing pressure in the atmosphere, and burst when it reached its maximum altitude, at 99,088 feet, after around 1 hour 20 minutes. The payload then started its steady descent back to Earth – at speeds of around 150 miles per hour – and its parachute was forced open by air resistance, slowing the payload as it fell and allowing for a soft landing.

Throughout the balloon’s journey, data was recorded, including GPS positioning, altitude, temperature and pressure and all the information gathered consolidated. The tracking team, armed with GPS and radio receiver, continually tracked the payload for a speedy recovery on landing. The payload, specially designed to stay protected from the extreme elements (up to -50°C), included a backup radio transmitter to enable it to be located once on the ground.

During World Space Week in October 2010, Team Aeros took their project to Intech Science Centre at Winchester to describe their challenge and share their enthusiasm with the many schoolchildren and parents that visited during the week. Who knows, it could have inspired one of those children to become a future Airbus Defence and Space apprentice!

Have a look of the images taken from the balloon journey in the video

CareersWorld Space Week