Space launch near for balloon

Members of the Dunedin Space Programme (from left) Mitchell Scott (12), Amadeo Enriquez...
Members of the Dunedin Space Programme (from left) Mitchell Scott (12), Amadeo Enriquez-Ballestero, Jason Neal, Issac Rijlaarsdam (14) and Lucy O'Neill (16) inspect one of the weather balloons which the group will use to test their equipment on before they send it 35km above Earth's surface. Photo by Tim Miller.
Dunedin's space programme is ready to launch its first mission to the edge of space, with the final testing of equipment due this weekend.

A group of young space enthusiasts are conducting a test flight of a weather balloon they hope will eventually travel 35km above Earth's surface, and take a picture of the curvature of Earth.

After more than a year of testing and programming, the flight could take place within the next two or three weeks if conditions are right and the test run does not show up any major issues.

Head of the programme, Amadeo Enriquez-Ballestero, said the aim was to get pupils excited about space and astronomy.

''It's amazing here in Dunedin. We have the [Beverly Begg] observatory but a lot of people in Dunedin don't know what goes on or that it is even there.''

Putting together the computer equipment had been the hardest part of the project because of the amount of programming which was involved, he said.

''We decided early on the kids would learn the best by doing the programming themselves and they have really learnt a whole lot, which is fantastic.''

There were other pitfalls which the group has had to overcome, such as making sure the cameras did not freeze in the sub-zero temperature, with simple hand warmers keeping the batteries working.

The space programme started as an after-school group at Kavanagh College but has grown to include pupils from other schools as well.

''I started the Astronomy Club so that I could share my passion for astronomy and science, and it has been great to surround myself with great people that can help us make cool things happen,'' Mr Enriquez-Ballestero said.

The weather balloon will be launched from somewhere near Dunedin, depending on wind direction and speed, with a box containing three cameras, and a small computer which will be recording pressure, temperature and the balloon's location, attached below the balloon.

Before the launch, the team will conduct a test run on the Otago Museum lawn today making sure all the equipment works.

If the weather is favourable, they will test the weather balloon.

Because the balloon and equipment weighs less than 2kg, no permit is needed, but they will still inform the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand.

Anyone who was interested in the space programme, or the launch, could head along to the Otago Museum lawn today from 3pm and see what the programme was about, he said.


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