Sudbury Space Society aim high with balloon bid
Four friends from Suffolk are planning a mission high into the Earth's atmosphere using a helium-filled unmanned balloon and a £500 budget.
They plan to build the balloon, using some equipment bought on eBay, in a Sudbury garage and launch it in Cambridge in October.
Kevin Godfrey, a member of Sudbury Space Society, said the scheme began after a pub conversation.
He said they hoped it would inspire children to get involved in science.
The 50ft-wide balloon will carry monitoring and video equipment and send data and images back for analysis.
'Ingenuity and adaptation'
The friends aim to measure the Earth's magnetic fields and get an insight into atmospheric pressures.
Solar panels have been included to warm the equipment in the face of expected -50C temperatures as the balloon rises to heights of up to 125,000 ft (38,500m).
At the end of the mission, a controlled explosion will release components and parachute them back to earth.
Many of the components have been adapted from items bought on eBay. This includes using a desktop printer and a nail varnish dryer to make circuit boards.
John Burch, a software engineer who is a member of the society, said: "We want to show the inventor in a garden shed is still thriving.
"With ingenuity and adaptation you can achieve things that would cost NASA a small fortune."
Mr Burch has written an application that will allow a digital transmitter to send images of Suffolk back to a Facebook page.
Fellow team member Mr Godfrey, who works in marketing and only studied science up to O-level, said: "Like most crazy ideas this started in the pub and we had drank a lot of cider at the time.
"But when we began to talk about it we realised this might be possible."
He added: "We think this is the first time a project of this kind has been launched on such a small budget and we can set an example to get others excited about science.
"We know it's all a bit Heath Robinson but as amateurs we're enjoying taking a mend and make do attitude to space exploration.
"We will publish all our designs and plans online so anybody can copy what we've done. With a budget like this, we hope to put space missions into the reach of a school science project."
Other group members are Mark Newby-Robson and Simon Grice.
Depending on weather conditions, the probe will be launched from a site near Cambridge in the week beginning 8 October.
The group are looking for businesses to sponsor the project and also aim to raise funds for the East Anglian Air Ambulance Service.
Sophie Allan, a physics teacher with the UK's National Space Academy, said schools sometimes conducted similar experiments with a balloon.
She said without a propulsion system, such as a rocket, any craft was unlikely to go more than 125,000 ft (38,500m) at which point the balloon is likely to explode.
The Earth's atmosphere is about 328,000ft (99,000m) from the ground.