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Contact: horizon@qmgs.walsall.sch.uk with any queries.

Click here for the Polaris launch report.

Click here for the Luna launch report.

For earlier posts click here.

Latest News

July 2016

Team Polaris Launch Report


Team Polaris met at Queen Mary’s Grammar School in the morning on Sunday 10th July determined to launch their payload following a postponed launch the day before due to heavy rain. Isaac began testing the flight computer which immediately returned the correct telemetry according to the School’s positon. Frequent gusts of wind made filling the balloon with helium a difficult task but the team managed to control it sufficiently, with Mr Ratna keeping a firm grasp on its neck. During this time, Blazej and Alex packed the cameras, flight computer, GPS module and beacon circuit into the payload before sealing it up.

With the balloon filled, parachute connected and payload packed, the team was ready to launch. However, air traffic control at Birmingham Airport informed us of three planes that were due to pass over Walsall in succession and with the relatively high wind speeds gave instructions to temporarily hold the launch and standby for clearance; this was not easy with the gusts acting heavily on the balloon. Eventually, just before 10:00 am, the team was given permission to release the balloon. The payload was swiftly lifted away, spinning rapidly as it ascended towards a group of relatively thick clouds.

After confirmation that the flight computer inside the payload was still transmitting a signal to the radio on the ground, the team made their way to the minibus for the journey to the predicted landing site. The live tracker revealed the payload was roughly following its predicted flight path on a heading towards Lincoln before changing direction to Sheffield and then again towards north of Scunthorpe, where it was originally predicted to land.

As the payload approached higher altitudes, the signal occasionally dropped for short periods creating a tense atmosphere in the minibus. However, the mood soon turned to one of excitement as the payload approached the maximum altitude achieved by team Luna the previous week (of 38,425 metres) and the team collectively cheered as it surpassed it. They continued to will it on even further with the 38,915 metre record (set in 2014 during the Beat Felix mission) in their sight. To the immense delight of team Polaris and the Horizon staff, the balloon finally burst over the north-west of Worksop at a peak altitude of 39,115 metres (128,330 feet) setting a new Horizon record!


Stills from the Polaris payload

A view of the School during payload's initial ascent.



Recovering the payload

Original plans to stop for lunch were quickly changed as tracking the payload to its landing position took precedence. Since there was the possibility of it landing in The Humber, the team prepared for a potentially difficult recovery. During the last few hundred metres of the descent, the GPS tracker was remotely switched on as the signal from the flight computer eventually disappeared. Soon enough the coordinates of the payload revealed it had landed in a field in Swinefleet, East Yorkshire, just shy of the River Ouse.

About 20 minutes later, the minibus was parked alongside a cornfield where the GPS signal was being sent from. Excitement led the entire team and staff out towards the payload. A faint but distinctive beep of the siren revealed its exact location after a few minutes allowing Blazej to recover the payload and the parachute. Celebrations and feelings of relief followed as everyone made their way back to the minibus and, after clearing their shoes of corn, headed for a well-known fast food restaurant for a well-earned lunch.

During the return journey back to QM, the team reviewed some of the still images and film footage they had recorded of the payload’s journey just hours ago. A few spectacular photographs captured two of the passing planes during the payload’s initial ascent from Walsall. Soon enough, the familiar tune of the School Song (to be broadcast when the payload reached its peak altitude, as part of one of the team’s aims) was faintly heard through the speakers of one of the cameras, while the team also watched the accompanying film of Earth from the stratosphere.

Team Polaris carried out a dramatic, exciting and record-breaking launch. Not only did they set the new highest altitude achieved by a Horizon mission, they also fulfilled a unique and memorable accomplishment in broadcasting our School Song from the stratosphere at almost 40 km from the surface of the Earth and, in their own words, have truly succeeded in “cementing Queen Mary’s Grammar School among the stars!” (See a clip of this below.)

Team Polaris with their payload (left to right): Matt, Jasmine, Blazej, Alex, Samran, Jeevon and Isaac


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July 2016

Team Luna Launch Report


Team Luna met at 8:00 am on Sunday 3rd July at Queen Mary’s Grammar School ready to launch their payload, having fully tested the flight computer, GPS tracker, cameras and beacon circuit, and rehearsed the procedure for filling and sealing the balloon. Following the high wind speeds and cloud coverage the previous day, Sunday lived up to its positive forecast of low gusts, no rain and moderate cloud coverage.

The team wasted no time at all in setting up the launch site, packing the payload and securing it to the parachute and balloon. At around 9:45 am, the team was ready to launch and when clearance was given by Air Traffic Control at Birmingham Airport, Aadam led the way with the balloon towards the centre of the field, followed by Rajiv holding the parachute and finally Lewis with the payload. Each stage was then released with a small horizontal gust catching the payload, causing it to graze the ground slightly before lifting off but since the payload was so well packed the contents was unaffected and it immediately began to climb into the sky above Walsall.

The team watched as the balloon ascended with the payload, with Ben keeping an eye on the signal being sent from the on-board flight computer to the laptop on the ground showing the telemetry data which gave the payload’s coordinates, altitude and ascent rate. Satisfied with the clear and stable signal, the team packed up the launch site and assembled into the minibus to head for the predicted landing zone.

The team being briefed about the payload packing procedure one final time before the launch process.


Testing the live stream for the launch.


Filling and sealing the balloon.


Tying the balloon line to the top of the parachute.


Aadam leads the way by carrying the balloon to the middle of the school field before releasing it. Up, up and away!


With the payload climbing into the sky the team pack up the launch site before heading out in pursuit.


Stills from the Luna payload


Recovering the payload

As the payload continued to climb, tweets were sent out at 10, 20 and 30 kilometres. Just before midday, the team cheered as the payload passed last year’s altitude of 36,309 metres set during the Sun Chaser mission. Soon after, the balloon burst over Thornby in Northamptonshire at a peak altitude of 38,425 metres, less than half a kilometre from Horizon’s highest altitude to date of 38,915 metres set by the Armstrong probe during the Beat Felix mission in June 2014. A quick stop to refuel the minibus gave the team the chance to recalculate the payload’s heading following the balloon burst.

Lunch then followed at a well-known fast foods restaurant chain while the team waited for the payload to land. The GPS tracker took over from the flight computer during the last few miles of the payload’s descent to reveal its landing position in a field (next to a clay pigeon shooting range!) in Rushden, Northamptonshire just 12 minutes from where the team were having lunch.

The team were soon back in the minibus and en route to the landing site. The recovery of the payload was fairly swift with all Luna team members taking part. After posing for a team photo with the recovered payload, parachute and a good proportion of the balloon, they reassembled back into the minibus. The return journey back to the school gave the team the chance to review the spectacular footage captured – it was smiles all round!

Team Luna deserves congratulations for how closely they worked this year and for being the first team ready to launch their payload. They achieved two of their own aims, one of which was to obtain better quality footage than previous years (which also included an aerial view for the first time on a Horizon mission) and the other to surpass last year’s altitude. Only footage of the Moon was missing but the images and film they did capture of the Earth from the stratosphere were stunning – a wonderful end to a successful mission!

Team Luna with their recovered payload (left to right): Ben, Saba, Paramveer, Nicki, Aadam, Rajiv, Lewis (and Kieran, not pictured)

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June 2016

Proposed Launch Dates!


Provisional launch dates have been suggested for Saturday 2nd July for the first team ready to launch (with a reserve of Sunday 3rd in case of adverse weather) and Saturday 9th July for the second team (with a reserve of Sunday 10th).

As at the time of this update, the weather predictions look positive for the first launch but given the erratic weather patterns we have experienced so far, the predictions are changing on a very regular basis. We will continue to monitor the weather predictions every day until the launch so that we can decide to press ahead or postpone and make use of the reserve day.

The second screenshot below shows the predicted landing position for the payload on the first proposed launch date, just north-west of Boston.



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June 2016

Circuit Building and Balloon Training


Both teams continue the preparations for the upcoming launches next month.


NSR Meet 1

Polaris team leader Blazej solders components to his team's flight computer.


NSR Meet 2

Saba and Jasmine practice the procedures to attach and fill the balloon.


NSR Meet 3

Isaac positions components to be soldered for the beacon circuit which will audibly indicate the payload's location when it lands.


NSR Meet 4

Matt speaking to prospective sponsors for Horizon.


NSR Meet 5

Luna team leader Lewis constructing his team's flight computer as deputy leader Ben looks on.


NSR Meet 6

Aadam and Rajiv preparing the last few wires for their beacon circuit.


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June 2016

Open Evening


The second Queen Mary's Grammar School Open Evening of the year gave Horizon another chance to showcase our project to prospective pupils and parents.

This time we set up shop in the 6th Form lecture theatre which allowed us to run viewings of past footage and talk about this year's mission.

Open Eve 1

Open Eve 2

Open Eve 3

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April 2016

Horizon at the Thinktank Science Museum


Horizon returned to the Thinktank Science Museum in Birmingham to showcase our project and this year's mission - the Near Space Race - to the museum visitors.

Thanks to the Horizon team and staff who came along to promote our project!

Thinktank 1

Thinktank 3

Thinktank 4

Thinktank 5

Thinktank 6


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March 2016

Equipment Testing and Software Tracking


The Near Space Race Horizon Mission is going well, with both teams now well underway with their projects.

Equipment Testing

Both teams look through equipment to see which best suit their team, also making sure they are in full working order. We are also playing around with the radios and coming to terms with the tuning of them.

Software Tracking

Both teams are getting to grips with the new software which will help them track their payload, shortly after the take-off.

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October 2015

Horizon at Queen Mary's Grammar School's Open Evening


Open Evening this year at Queen Mary's was as exciting and rewarding as it always is. Horizon was showcased to parents and prospective pupils, who were impressed with the project's achievements, particularly with the stunning footage of the sunrise from the stratosphere captured during the Sun Chaser mission.

Many thanks go to Matt Chislett and Lydia McGann for helping out with the promotion of Horizon.


Open Evening 1

A stand of the equipment we use during Horizon missions.


Open Evening 2

A display wall of images from our 2014/15 mission Sun Chaser.


Open Evening 3

Open Evening 4

Parents and primary school pupils learning about Horizon's work.


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July 2015

Horizon under new management


Mr Coghlan and CASSiE at the UK Space Conference 2015

As of this July I'll be retiring as the head of Horizon to take a new position at another school. I've had an incredible four years running one of the first school-based, Near Space Agencies. It's been a privilege to share in this adventure with some incredible pupils and I'm going to miss you all a great deal. Thank you to everyone who has helped in any way to build this project from the ground up. It has been a highlight of my career and I shall look back on my time at Queen Mary's fondly.

What will happen to the project? Horizon has become an integral part of Queen Mary's Grammar School and it belongs here. I'll be handing over the reins to the very capable Mr Sepede who will be heading up the project from this point forward.

September will mark the beginning of a new chapter in Horizon's history. There will be one or two new faces joining the staff team. A new team of pupils will sign up and a few of last year's members will stay on. There will be some fundamental changes in the structure of the project to make it stronger and to broaden it's scope. It's going to be a very exciting year.

Thank you to all of the incredible sponsors who have helped support the project over the years. I am extremely grateful for everything you have done for us. You've helped me to build a project which has had a positive impact on the lives of many pupils and has inspired many more.

I wish everyone the best of luck for the future!

Mr Coghlan

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Horizon Sponsors

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Aerospace Manufacturing Strategy & Support Ltd

Jones Springs Limited

Scientific & Chemical Supplies Ltd

Walsall Education Business Partnership


© MAS 2016
Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Walsall
Telephone: 01922 720696