Transition year students at Galway Community College are taking their science practical work to new heights with two space-related projects which will be launched in the coming weeks. A group of TY students at the college plan to send a balloon into space next month to conduct a number of experiments and measurements, while a second group is building a tiny satellite as part of the Europe-wide CANSAT competition.
The space balloon — which, weather permitting and pending permission from the Irish Aviation Authority, will be launched in early March — will carry, among other things, a copy of Sharon Shannon’s hit ‘Galway Girl’ and the logos of the Galway Advertiser, Galway Bay FM, and main sponsor Camabola Healthy School Lunches Delivered.
The craft, named the ‘The Galway Girl’, will carry a flight recorder to measure its speed and height, as well as the atmospheric temperature and wind speed. It will also play ‘Galway Girl’ on loop throughout its flight, estimated to last some two and a half hours, to observe what effect the thinning air in the upper reaches of the atmosphere will have on sound waves.
It will also feature a Carambola rice cracker, which will be recorded in space to see if the rice will pop as the air pressure decreases. According to GCC science teacher Nicky Cavalleri, who is overseeing the students’ work, one thing will definitely pop — the helium filled balloon, which will need to be found in order to retrieve the recorded footage and data.
Locating the balloon
“With the right weather conditions it should land back in Ireland,” Mr Cavalleri explained. “It’s a very small dot once you’re up in the air, but if the wind is in the wrong direction it could land in France. We have some detectors that work off the mobile phone network and we’ll work with those to locate the balloon when it comes down.”
The students can then use the data to examine the layers of the lower atmosphere’s different layers, which can be distinguished by their decreasing air pressure and density, as well as changes in temperature as the craft ascends.
“The idea of this is to stimulate awareness of and interest in the atmosphere,” Mr Cavalleri said. “The flight recorder will tell you the speed, height, wind speed, and temperature, how cold is it outside, and where the jet stream is. We will be looking at the jet stream, how high it is, where it is, and how thick it is. And we will be able to tell how high the balloon gets before it pops.”
Students have been working on the project since October, and a post-Leaving Cert student in the school’s film and TV programme has been recording the work with a view to creating a film of the entire project once the flight is completed.
It is hoped the balloon will reach a height in the region of 40km during its flight. A nationwide competition is also planned, which will invite national and secondary school students to calculate the height at which the helium balloon will burst.
A second group of TY students at Galway Community College also have high hopes for their project — a tiny satellite which they are building as part of the Europe-wide CANSAT competition.
CANSAT, which is run by the European Space Agency and co-ordinated in the west of Ireland by GMIT, invites groups to build a satellite which can fit into a standard size drinks can and launch it to take measurements of air pressure and temperature, and the GCC satellite will also measure the distance to other objects in the atmosphere, a project inspired by the recent ESA Rosetta mission, which saw the tiny Philae probe land on a comet and measure the distance to the comet’s surface features before running out of power.
The students are also working to promote their project within the school and on Facebook, and will be required to create visualisations of the data collected and present their findings as part of the competition.
Like the space balloon project, the students working on the CANSAT mission are using the school’s facilities as much as possible to create their satellite, even using the school’s 3D printer to design and manufacture a can to house the equipment rather than using a drinks can, as is the usual practice.
For more details on the projects follows GCC on Facebook or see www.galwaycc.ie