Launch Diaries

European Astrotech's Inaugural Summer Space Camp - Day 1

2017-08-12 15:11:07


After being inundated with requests for work experience during the spring, we decided to host a summer space camp and invite potential space cadets between the ages of 15 - 18 to our head quarters in Westcott. Our aim was to give students an informative, interesting and fun introduction to the roles in STEM subjects related to the space industry and to show them the cutting edge work being completed right here in Buckinghamshire. After a couple of months organising: speakers, workshops, tours, facilities and awards. We were ready to start our first ever space camp on the Thursday 10th August with all the nerves and excitement that entails. On the morning of the 10th, with beautiful weather, we welcomed our twenty six cadets. 

A great morning to start a space camp

We started with a number of talks from respected figures in the space industry. Such as; Chris Smith the Technical Director of European Astrotech telling stories from a career in rocket propulsion that has seen him traverse the globe and work on a wide range of spacecraft including Rosetta. Dr Bob Parkinson from Cranfield University discussing the surprises we have found during the pursuit of planetary science. Ed Moore from Airbourne Engineering who wowed the cadets and possibly damaged some ear drums, with a talk on rocket science and propellant chemistry that illustrated the power of igniting hydrogen and oxygen in a balloon. Mary MacIntyre was last, giving an introduction to astrophotography and how to capture incredible images with the bare minimum of equipment. 

Bob Parkingson at EAL Summer Space Camp 
Dr Bob Parkinson during his talk on planetry sciences at EAL Summer Space Camp

After lunch we headed down to see Airbourne Engineering's site and get a tour of the firing bays that are used to test a whole range of interesting rockets, including Reaction Engines Sabre Rocket. Unfortunately Airbourne didn't have a big rocket to test but were able to wheel out a demonstration rocket, called the Banshee, to illustrate Ed's earlier rocket science talk. The Banshee uses acrylic tube as the fuel and emits a high pitch squeal, hence the name. 

The Banshee rocket as it burns through its fuel

To finish day 1 we had a number of workshops planed to run in our offices. Starting with 3, 2, 1, Rocket Pi, this workshop was designed to give an introduction to coding using Python and building electronic circuits that interact with the Raspberry Pi. Using Pi-Top CEEDS that we were graciously lent by Pi-Top and very thankful for, we started the workshop. The goal of the workshop was to have a launch circuit that would ignite the engine of a model rocket by using a small resistor, a little gunpowder and 40 volts. 

Cadets working on their circuits to launch a model rocket

For a bunch of engineers putting on our very first space camp we managed to get the organisation and timing down up to a point The workshops were always going to take longer than we reasonably had but we had so many ideas we were hoping to cram into the two days. We also had to change our plans on the fly, as the planned high altitude balloon for day 2 had to be brought foreword to day 1 due to weather. So taking a break from the Rocket Pi workshop to get some fresh air and stretch some legs, we went to launch our high altitude balloon. 


The weather was perfect; still, sunny and clear. Watching the balloon rise at our launch time of 3.30pm was serene and we were able to follow it up for a long time. Before Heidi and our incredible volunteer Chris Stubbs headed of to track the balloon during its flight. 

Lift Off

We had a workshop to finish off, so as the cadets tracked the balloon though its journey, they completed their launch circuits. A couple were ready to test out with the rocket out on the firing stage (a couple of pallets). As with all engineering endeavours we had some failures and not enough time to test, find and fix the problems (waiting parents). But we did get to launch some rockets, which led to a discussing the physics involved in rocket flight, which is what space camp is meant to be all about!

Is it a bird, is it a plane, is it a superman? No it is a rocket!

Whilst we launched rockets and talked all things physics, space and balloons our EALCAMP balloon was making its journey to 22000 meters before speeding back to earth.

EAL Space Camp Balloon at 22000 Meters.


Plot of Altitude vs Time for EALCAMP

EALCAMP Hit a Max Vertical Speed of 24 meters per second or 86.4 km/h.

We stopped receiving telemetry as the payload came down over the town of Overton, we saw it travel across the town and head towards the fields on the outskirt of town but dramatically the balloon landed on an unsuspecting member of the publics house right on the edge of town. A long pole and a lot of apologising, Heidi and our volunteer Chris were able to retrieve the payload and head back to Westcott. 

Google Earth Flight Path for EALCAMP