A secluded South Lakeland valley was chosen as the launch site for a stratospheric balloon for performing Graphene experiments.
An astrophysicist, materials scientists and an aeronautics engineer were among the high octane intellect gathered at Scroggs Farm on the banks of the river Kent in a secluded South Lakeland valley this weekend. Their purpose was to launch a balloon 35km up into the stratosphere to test the response of two small strips of Graphene to the effects of altitude, low atmospheric pressure and the perishing temperatures of the outer band of the earth’s atmosphere.
A product of the intricate science of nano-technology, Graphene is composed of atom-thick layers of carbon that has a range of properties that have far reaching benefits for aviation and space exploration. One application is to use it as a conductive skin on carbon fibre aircraft wings. “It’s possible to print electrically conductive Graphene circuits or antennas directly onto an aircraft wing,” explained Billy Beggs, Engineering Innovation Manager at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN) in Preston.
A practical man with decades of experience in the aerospace industry, Beggs believes very strongly in trying out new ideas as soon as possible to expose the flaws and refine designs. A number of research associates from UCLAN were on hand at Scroggs Farm to bring science out of the lab and into practice.
Getting the experiment off the ground involved tethering the Graphene antennas and measuring instruments to a parachute and a 3m diameter latex balloon filled with helium. As it rises at a brisk rate of 5 metres per second, the balloon expands dramatically when the atmospheric pressure drops. When it reaches around 12m diameter high in the stratosphere, the ultra-thin latex gives way, the balloon disintegrates and the parachute and experiment return gracefully to earth.
Professor of Solar Physics, Robert Walsh was in charge of the recovery team. “With this wind, we expect it to come down near Workington but we’ve brought our walking boots so we’re prepared to do a bit of hiking if it comes down in the fells,” he said.
Local farmer Katie Black’s family has been at the 500 acre Scrogg’s Farm for four generations and it’s the first time the land has been used to reach for the stars and the experiment was something of an inspiration for her teenage daughter, Jessica, who has long expressed a keen interest in studying science at University.
For the farm, there’s no turning back and whilst the sheep will continue to graze peacefully on the slopes of the Kentmere hills, the scientists will be back to continue their series of launches to perform pioneering space experiments. “It’s nice to see our 17th century farm being used for 21st century science,” she said.