All systems go as Project Infinity launches

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Thursday 22nd of August was an overcast day in Armagh but despite the cloud cover, the mild weather provided an ideal opportunity for the launch of Infinity-1! Having worked together for over a week, the crew of Coder Dojo Project Infinity finally received Civil Aviation Authority clearance for their new launch location at the top of the Navan Fort in the vicinity of Armagh. The specially constructed probe, complete with GPS, video and meteorological instrumentation, was to be tethered to a giant helium balloon and parachute which would allow the payload to float to 120,000 feet (or ‘near space’) from where it could gather information about atmosphere and video footage from the edge of the space. With the balloon expected to pop at its max altitude, the parachute would deploy and carry the probe back to ground with a predicted landing zone along the border in North Louth.

With a rehearsed list in hand, the crew started off by performing detailed checks of all the equipment on board the probe before connecting up all batteries and sealing the unit shut complete with heat packs, spare batteries and the project mascot, a small 3D printed toy called ‘Buzz’. Next up was the most delicate task of inflating the 1200g weather balloon with 4 cubic metres worth of helium sponsored by ‘EU Universe Awareness’ program. The task required most of the crew on hand to ensure that the balloon filled without getting snagged or caught in gusts of winds. Inflation took around 15 minutes and this was immediately followed by the further delicate task of measuring the nose lift before sealing and tethering the balloon to a temporary anchor.

Next up was a final check of all electronics including a test of the GPS system and GPS backup systems before tethering the activated probe to its parachute and to the main balloon tether. Some final checks of the tether along and it was time to release the anchor and prefer for launch.

With a small crowd gathered having spotted the activities on top of the mound, the group posed for some photographs with the floated payload before taking a final check of wind speed. The launch happened very quick with 3 of the crew gradually releasing the main tether until the payload was well clear of the ground and stable. The main fear of launching from Navan Fort was the number of larger trees in the immediate area but with very calm conditions, the final countdown began and the balloon was released. Rising very quickly, the payload appeared to swing frantically but this settled after the first few hundred feet and within 3 – 4 minutes the balloon was no longer visible.

Next step was the chase with a small team taking to the car before bee-lining for County Louth. With GPS coordinates transmitting every 10 minutes, only 2 broadcasts came through before blackout at 65000ft. But this was enough to show that it was on course and on schedule for touch down between Crossmaglen and Dundalk.

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