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July 20, 2021

St Paul’s School Space finished the year with a bang!

At 9am on Tuesday 13 July, students watched as the gondola carrying experiments they designed rose from the Big Side playing fields destined to take measurements in conditions similar to those on the surface of Mars.

This was the third launch of the Ascension program started by SPS Space members in 2017. This project brings teams together from different year groups and partnership schools. Under the supervision of Dr Still and Dr Patterson, Lower Eighth students from our CanSat teams act as mentors for the partnership schools. This year teams from Bishopshalt, Oasis Academies and Kensington Aldridge Academy (KAA) participated in the virtual workshops and designed experiments. Dr Perkins, a former St Paul’s physics teacher, also brought a team from Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School.

With reduced access to workshops over the lockdown period and teacher support limited by social distancing, many times we were on the edge of a no-go for launch. Fortunately some restrictions were lifted in time to be able to have extended technical support sessions just before launch.

On the morning of the launch the last hurdle seemed insurmountable; the predicted path was too close to Heathrow airspace for the Civil Aviation Authority’s comfort! In the end we were given a 4 minute launch window with less than an hour’s notice. After a manic rush to fill and prep the balloon the graceful ascent was almost surreal.

Fortunately, the chase and recovery went as smoothly as could be hoped for. Children from an infant school in Chalfont St Peter watched in fascination as the payload fell from the sky into a field by their playground.

We  would like to give much thanks to Erik de Schrijver from the Asgard program for last minute support and expert advice. Emulating the experience and determination of those who dared to take their dreams to the edge of space kept us going.

Ad Astra Per Aspera!


Saadhyan Ragulan and Ivan Shammas from the Fourth Form team successfully measured pressure during the flight and the temperature outside the gondola (lowest -36°C).

The Fifth Form Asgard team experiment to collect meteor dust using high voltage flew again. Unfortunately the experiment broke off on landing and some of the collecting pads were contaminated with grass seed! Hopefully when the team looks at the other pads with the school’s Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) they will have some interesting finds.

Bishopshalt Team installed a UV sensor which recorded data at the start but developed a fault after deployment.

Oasis Team came to Friday’s workshop working on a Gieger Muller tube and nearly got it working on time. Hopefully it will fly on the next balloon launch in Autumn along with an experiment from Kensington Aldridge Academy.

Adi Jain from the Lower Eighth CanSat team CLASP prepped the CanSat for the balloon launch and recorded concentrations of the pollutant gasses NH3, CO and NO2. Edouard Dominjon from team SPASTA helped with the tracking systems and recorded the launch by drone.

Team Space Quest from Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School flew a RaspberryPi with camera and Vertigo units designed by IRIS academic partners.

Feedback from students

“In the first week I joined Ascension, which I believe was over the internet, there were about 20 people. I didn’t understand much and I barely knew anyone else. Through the following weeks and then months, I learned more than I had ever learned before in electronics from new terms to equipment. Sadly the number of people attending our sessions lessened, but it was still carried on by a few. In the final few sessions, I enjoyed myself immensely working with other years and seeing their projects and listening to their ideas. Their expertise really helped and in the end we were able to achieve what we set out to do. The sense of achievement has been amazing.” Saadhyan Ragulan.

“This year of SPS Space has been brilliant! I feel that being part of the Fifth Form team has definitely helped me to think more like an engineer. What I mean by that is I have started to apply concepts such as prototyping and debugging to other real world applications (either similar engineering projects or other activities).” James Platt.

“The opportunity to participate in such an exciting project has been incredibly fulfilling. Throughout the year I have deepened my understanding not only of the topic at hand, but also of the way in which a project like this is completed, collaborating with a team to achieve this.” Rayn Lakha.

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