Newcastle student's dream project goes to edge of space

Nolan Sobel-Read from Hunter School of the Performing Arts launched a home-built weather balloon in western NSW. Sven Wright reports.

A student sitting at a desk with equipment on it giving the thumbs up. A student sitting at a desk with equipment on it giving the thumbs up.
Image: Nolan Sobel-Read prepares for the launch of his weather balloon at Nyngan.

Hunter School of the Performing Arts school captain Nolan Sobel-Read has realised a long-held dream of exploring space, albeit the very edge, through a weather balloon launch as part of a STEM elective project.

Nolan’s aspirations came to fruition at the end of last term under the guidance of teacher Ben Moore, the mentorship of the founder of an electronics engineering company, and the financial support of an electronics enthusiasts’ magazine.

Mr Moore said it was Nolan’s keen interest in space as a young boy that prompted him to take on such an ambitious project, culminating in the launch from Nyngan High School.

“It took real drive and hard work to reach that point,” Mr Moore said.

“As well as the academic effort, Nolan has developed project management skills, including inter-personal skills that enabled him to work with Cameron Owen, the founder of SAPHI Engineering in Mayfield, and also DIYODE magazine.

“Mr Owen helped build the balloon and write the code for the instruments attached to it, and the magazine helped fund the project in return for Nolan writing regular progress reports for publication.”

A teacher and student pointing at the sky. A teacher and student pointing at the sky.
Image: Nolan and teacher Ben Moore during the launch.

The 1200g degradable latex weather balloon was two metres in diameter once filled with 3.5 cubic metres of helium, swelling to 10 metres due to the drop in air pressure at its maximum height of 28km, which is twice as high as a commercial airliner flight, before it burst and came down.

It was launched from Nyngan High because Nolan wanted to share his enthusiasm and project with regional students, and because the balloon’s eastward wind-driven trajectory of about 100km avoided the ocean, major cities and the Great Dividing Range.

Instruments, including four cameras, GPS tracking devices and a thermometer, transmitted atmospheric data via a satellite and the styrofoam box they were in descended by parachute after the balloon burst.

The box was located through GPS data so photographs could be retrieved, as well as logged data about changes in pressure, temperature, altitude and speed of movement from the wind.

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