Our Summer Update is brought to you by James Baseley, Treasurer of the Boscombe Down Balloon Challenge!
Towards the end of June some of our participating schools spent the day with us at MOD Boscombe Down in Amesbury. The purpose of this visit was for the entrants to gain an insight into the test and evaluation activity that is carried out here by the partnership between the UK MOD and QinetiQ. There was also an opportunity for the students to test their initial balloon payload designs in our Environmental Test Facility (ETF), putting the transmitters through their paces at temperatures as low as -56 degrees Celsius!
After the morning site health and safety briefing, payloads were delivered to the ETF cold chamber whilst the students were given a tour of the apprentice hangar by Ryan Potter. This hangar is used by the apprentices in the first years of their careers at QinetiQ and it is where they learn vital knowledge on aircraft maintenance and serviceability through hands on experience. Ryan took the students round a selection of aircraft and everyone had a seat in an aircraft cockpit – the highlight of the trip for some!
The rest of the morning was spent enjoying an aeronautical themed quiz run by Saarim Siddiqi, as well as a presentation and Q&A session with Rod Angel, project lead. Subjects were brought up that got the students thinking about how they could tailor their balloon designs for maximum effect. These included thinking about the properties of the atmosphere and how this changes with height, high altitude effects on payloads and the likely behaviour of balloon envelopes during an ascent (and parachutes on subsequent descent!).
After a much needed lunch, the students caught the site shuttle bus across the runway to the ETF, passing other interesting facilities such as the rolling platform (used to simulate ship deck motion) and the anechoic chamber (used for complete absorption of sound and electromagnetic waves). Following a tour of the chamber, some group pictures were taken under the very large sun lamp and a video was shown on previous test and evaluation activities undertaken at Boscombe Down. Not long after, the payloads had completed their simulated “flight” and they were returned to their respective institutions. At this point the students really got an understanding of just how cold their balloons and payloads would be in the upper atmosphere – mainly because they were still completely covered in ice!
The payloads were tested to see if they still worked – the answer was yes but not as well as they had been before the flight period. This instantly prompted discussions on how the schools could insulate their payloads more effectively to result in a successful flight.
After a few more group photos the visitors were escorted back to the main gate where we said our goodbyes. Overall the feedback was positive and it was very clear that enthusiasm amongst the entrants was high as they left the site. For those who could not attend on the day, the visit showed that you must not to underestimate the extreme conditions of the atmosphere on a transmitting payload – something to think about during the design phase of your projects!