THE sky really is the limit for Bolton School pupils who have joined the space race.

Pupils have designed equipment and programmed technology to capture the curvature of the Earth through photographs and video footage using a helium balloon.

The space team is celebrating a successful test launch of its tethered balloon from the school’s playing fields in advance of a summer lift-off.

An insulated capsule, containing a high-resolution camera, will be sent to the edge of “near space” — an altitude of 100,000 feet.

Pupils will track the flight with amateur radio equipment and retrieve the capsule where it lands via GPS.

James Whalley, aged 15, said: “Friday was a real milestone. It was great to have such a successful conclusion to a lot of hard work and we now look forward to the full launch in June.

"My role has revolved around programming and developing the GPS model.

"The project has involved the working together of many departments in a highly unusual venture. It is certainly a first for Bolton School.”

The team, under guidance staff members Alec Jones and Chris Walker, head of the technology department, has designed and built the project.

They have custom-built most of the hardware and electronics and have written most of the software for the onboard computer.

Teachers say the project has captured the boys’ imagination and demanded a high level of problem-solving skills to bring it to completion — comparing it to NASA and the early days of space exploration.

Previously, pupils have designed and built an ocean yacht — Tenacity of Bolton — but this is the first time they have aimed for space.

Mr Walker said: “The test launch comes after a year of planning and developing.

“We are very pleased with the success so far, but we have learnt a number of lessons from this exercise and we plan to improve the electronics and onboard computer ready for the real launch in the summer.”

Mr Jones said: “I am extremely pleased at how smoothly the test launch went.

“It was the culmination of 18 months’ hard work on the part of both pupils and staff. We are all now enthusiastically looking forward to the real launch which will be scheduled as soon as we receive permission from the Civil Aviation Authority.”

High-Altitude Ballooning

  • High-altitude balloons are unmanned balloons — usually filled with helium or hydrogen — that are released into the stratosphere, generally reach between 60,000 to 120,000ft.
  • The balloons are launched into “near space”— the area of Earth’s atmosphere where there is little air, but where the remaining amount generates too much drag for satellites to remain in orbit.
  • An insulated capsule containing electronics such as a GPS and a radio is attached to the balloon.
  • The balloon is released and as helium is lighter than air it will rise.
  • As it rises the outside pressure decreases which leads to the helium expanding, causing the balloon to stretch.
  • The balloon is made of a form of latex and is incredibly stretchy, however it gets to a point where it cannot stretch any more and bursts.
  • As the capsule begins to fall a parachute glides it down to Earth.