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April 29, 2019

Asgard IX – a joint physics and engineering project

A team of Fourth Formers have been working on Asgard IX, a joint physics and engineering project, since the start of this academic year.

Asgard is a program where students from all over the world pitch an experiment that is to be launched into the stratosphere; our team sought to measure the atmosphere’s temperature and pressure via a hydrogen weather balloon that would rise to heights of over 100,000 feet, a challenge made all the more testing by the strict weight limit of just 200 grams imposed on the device.

After seven months of hard work, the team had assembled the self-constructing object (SC0); two pieces of thin wood were fixed by a duct tape hinge, with a sealed syringe between the two objects. The hypothesis was that the air inside the syringe would expand due to low pressure in the upper atmosphere and therefore the syringe would extend.

After much experimenting on the mechanism, it was sent off to Brussels to be attached to the Gondola. Everyone cheered and clapped as it took flight, not knowing that hours later, the retrieval teams would only have found the lid of the Big Gondola, the rest floating away on the River Scheldt. The Small Gondola, in comparison, came back in one piece. It was fortunate that our experiment was conveniently on the very lid that was the only part to survive of the former. Unfortunately, the SCO somehow fell off, the battery and the camera cables were found to be disconnected, and to top it off, the Pi had recorded no data at all.

Despite the experiment not being a success, the team had learnt a lot in the process of creating the experiment, such as planning and managing an experiment, coding with Python and a Raspberry Pi, facts about conditions in the stratosphere, that there is no such thing as enough testing, and that they should consider all possible things that could go wrong. That being said, they fortunately have a second chance at a similar project called Ascension, which will happen here in the UK.

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