Project Horizon was founded at Queen Mary's Grammar School, Walsall, in February 2012. To the best of the school's and our knowledge it is the only school in the country with an active Near Space Programme. Horizon aims to raise the profile of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in both the school and the local area. As well as being an unforgettable experience for the pupils, the project helps foster links with local and national institutions and businesses, inspiring pupils and broadening their aspirations.
Neos Chronos became aware of Horizon in the beginning of 2014, as we were approached to help support the three planned missions: Gagarin, Armstrong and Hadfield (next and final launch), all named by the pupils after astronauts who, in their own way, have defined space history.
The proposition was quite unbelievable at first: using weather balloons, Horizon would fly probes far beyond the breathable atmosphere of the Troposphere and out into the blackness of the Stratosphere. The probes would carry a payload of cameras and sensors, broadcasting their position above the country and recording their environment throughout the flight. They would explore areas of the atmosphere that most people will never travel to in their lifetimes. All planned and executed by a team of pupils who would build the systems, contact sponsors, design the probes, monitor the weather forecasts, predict and prevent potential problems before they occur, plan the publicity campaign, plan the launches, present the videos, program the computers, raise funds, (re)design the website, run the Twitter account, setup the live feed on launch days, take the photos, test the equipment, track the probes and give chase.
The challenges seemed enormous. The probes would go beyond the blue skies and the familiar, to a place of extreme conditions: violent jet streams, temperatures low enough to freeze water in a split-second, cosmic radiation a hundred times that experienced on the surface of the planet. Then the trip down; plunging at terminal velocity until the probes hit the breathable atmosphere. The number of things that could go wrong was astronomical.
And then the surprise: the school did this before, successfully. All of this on a shoe-string budget, with equipment bought from companies accessible to the general public, with software developed as open source and code to be made publicly available in the near future. All of a sudden, the 2014 tough goal to beat the height achieved by Felix Baumgartner and the Redbull Stratos project seemed achievable. The succinctly abbreviated Twitter tag #beatfelix started to make sense.
Joining the list of Horizon sponsors was, nevertheless, not a decision based on the probability of success. For us at Neos Chronos, Horizon represented and represents an inspiring endeavour, and a remarkable example of what can be done when the right team, with passion, determination, and ingenuity comes together. A team that is bold enough and capable to turn an idea into reality, rally support around it, and ultimately achieve their aspirations. Be it now, or, if the team were not to be successful this time, in the future.
If all this sounds familiar, it is because these are the ingredients of any successful team that applies the lean startup methodology to build a business. With Horizon, Queen Mary's Grammar School is nurturing the entrepreneurs of the future.
We are therefore both proud and delighted to be one of the Project Horizon sponsors, providing funding for the telecommunications and equipment, as well as supporting the project in social media.
The final probe, Hadfield, is set to launch on launch 10am, Saturday 5th July 2014 (weather permitting) with reserve dates on Sunday 6th July, Saturday 12th July and Sunday 13th July 2014. You can check for the exact date and updates on the Horizon twitter account and the Horizon website.
Experience for yourself that the sky is not the limit.