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Going up! Annapolis Royal Space Agency looking at May launch


ANNAPOLIS ROYAL - Erich Gennette and Ian Oliver are building sophisticated, state-of-the-art sensors for the Annapolis Royal Space Agency’s Chick 1 probe that could be launched within the next month.

It’s a bit of a race against time for the team because Abigail Bonnington is using sophisticated computer software to track the jet stream daily looking for a good three- to four-day window to put the ‘package’ up. Expectations are that the box will reach 30 kilometres -- high up in the stratosphere. The edge of space. They hope to launch before the end of May.

Derick Smith is the lead on the project and checks with his other teams – marketing, media, logistics, and design. It’s coming together but there are still things to be nailed down.

Ben Abel was busy putting together a test package and securing it to a parachute. Smith would later drop it from the roof of the building to determine its rate of descent. The result is 3.1 metres per second. That’s important because when the package returns to Planet Earth, it must land gently or the expensive computerized equipment, power supplies, and cameras could be damaged. The package, or box, isn’t single use. Endorsements are paying the freight on the project and future teams will be building on it.

It’s a bit of a race against time for the team because Abigail Bonnington is using sophisticated computer software to track the jet stream daily looking for a good three- to four-day window to put the ‘package’ up. Expectations are that the box will reach 30 kilometres -- high up in the stratosphere. The edge of space. They hope to launch before the end of May.

Derick Smith is the lead on the project and checks with his other teams – marketing, media, logistics, and design. It’s coming together but there are still things to be nailed down.

Ben Abel was busy putting together a test package and securing it to a parachute. Smith would later drop it from the roof of the building to determine its rate of descent. The result is 3.1 metres per second. That’s important because when the package returns to Planet Earth, it must land gently or the expensive computerized equipment, power supplies, and cameras could be damaged. The package, or box, isn’t single use. Endorsements are paying the freight on the project and future teams will be building on it.

Teacher Derick Smith tosses the ‘package’ off the roof of the Annapolis West Education Centre. Annapolis Royal Space Agency members are on the ground timing the descent so they can calculate how fast it’s dropping. They concluded it was falling at 3.1 metres per second. When the real probe is launched the box will fall back to Earth and needs to land gently to prevent damaging equipment.

High School Project

Welcome to Annapolis West Education Centre where middle and high school students are leading the space race in Canada every Tuesday after the bell rings. The project is real, and Chick 1 refers to the much-loved late Chick Caldwell, one of the first financial backers of the probe. Students will fasten Caldwell’s photograph to the outside of the box and send him into space.

Derick Smith is Mr. Smith. He teaches physics and computer programming. And he’s an art teacher as well. And this may well be the first all-high school project of its kind in Canada.

In layman’s terms, the ARSA is going to attach a Styrofoam box, about 30 centimetres to a side, to a weather balloon. The sensors Gennette and Oliver are building and programming will record flight path information on a Secure Digital card. A SPOT Gen, also inside the box, will allow the ground crew to track the flight and retrieve the package. Three GoPro cameras will be attached to the outside of the box – one on a ‘selfie’ stick – and the entire flight will be recorded.

The helium-filled balloon will expand as it rises, and if calculations are correct based on the size of the balloon and the amount of helium, the balloon will explode at 30,000 metres – that’s 30 kilometres. About three times higher than a commercial jet flies. Hence the parachute.

The parachute opens to slow the descent of the package during a test by the Annapolis Royal Space Agency recently. It dropped at a rate of 3.1 metres per second – slow enough that the equipment in the box should be safe when the real package is launched and returns to the planet’s surface.

Touchdown

Based on a quick jet stream observation and calculation on a recent Tuesday, if launched that day the balloon would have exploded somewhere over New Ross and the parachute would have carried the package to Enfield near the Stanfield International Airport.

There is some concern that the package could be blown out over the Atlantic or land in water somewhere on the mainland. Parent Andy Sharpe is putting together a boat rescue plan for the latter. Bonnington’s jet stream trajectory predictions guard against the former. That Tuesday calculation would have put the package in Shubenacadie Grand Lake.

Bonnington works mostly in logistics but can be tapped for programming with the sensor crew. She said there turned out to be more overlap than originally thought, so she’s been involved in most of the teams.

Besides Ben Abel, others involved in design are Griffin Batt, Finn Hafting, Elsa Hafting, and Sara Abel. But Finn Hafting is also in logistics with Bonnington, And Elsa Hafting is also helping with marketing and media – as are Tayler Milbury, Karlee Milbury, Alex Hancock, Julia Hall, and Venessa Henry.

Ben Abel retrieves the test package after it falls from the school roof. With him are Griffin Batt and Zeynep Tonak. All three are members of the Annapolis Royal Space Agency.

Marketing and Media

It costs money to put a real space probe project like this together. That’s why Smith brought marketing and media on board. Marketing is looking for funds for the roughly $2,200 project. The media team is looking for project exposure so the marketing team will have something to sell. The big contributors will have their logos fastened to the outside of the box. Fundraising has hit the halfway mark, so they’re still pushing.

Zeynep Tonak is looking at the project from an innovation and entrepreneurial perspective. There’s a website in the works that will document the project and she wants to offer it to other schools so the ARSA experience can help other students troubleshoot. And they might be able to come up with starter kits to help those other schools get their projects off the ground – so to speak. Tonak, like most in the group, is on more than one team -- she also works on the sensors team.

Like Tonak, Smith looks to the future. Maybe next time they’ll build sensors to test the ozone layer. In the meantime they concentrate on Chick 1. There’s code to be written.

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