Student Adam Cudworth sends camera to edge of space
- 14 September 2012
- From the section England
A 19-year-old student has joined a select band of private individuals who have taken pictures from the edge of space.
Adam Cudworth, from Ombersley, Worcestershire, used a balloon to carry a second-hand camera more than 20 miles (32km) above the Earth.
The whole project cost less than £200.
The University of Nottingham student said: "It took me about a year just to research the rules and regulations and to build up my knowledge of what components work at extreme temperatures and altitudes."
Before he could launch a balloon he had to obtain permission from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
"The CAA govern what you can and can't do and you have to apply for permission more than a month in advance.
"They then issue a notice to pilots in the area to warn them that the balloon is going up," he said.
Richard Taylor, from the CAA, said it now got two or three requests a month for similar launches.
"Improvements in camera technology allow people to do this kind of thing a lot more cheaply," he said.
He said the CAA was happy to grant permission in most cases.
Mr Cudworth is delighted with the quality of the pictures he got from a camera he bought for £30 on eBay.
"It only uses about eight megapixels and the clarity of the photos is absolutely fantastic really," he said.
The balloon was launched from near his house and was recovered after its flight from a field 40 miles (64km) away at Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire.
The 10-metre diameter balloon carried the camera to a height of 110,210ft (33,592 metres) before bursting.
"It initially falls extremely fast because there is no atmosphere, then, as it re-enters thicker atmosphere, a parachute opens and it slows down considerably," Mr Cudworth said.
The camera, radio and GPS tracking equipment had to be able to work in temperatures as low as minus -63C, he said.
Keeping track of the camera presented its own problems.
Initially Mr Cudworth thought about using a mobile phone, but discovered that these lost signal at altitudes above 2km (1.2 miles).
The use of GPS systems at high altitudes is also restricted by international laws, he discovered.
"A lot of GPS modules don't work above 18km because of limits because they don't want them used in intercontinental missiles," he said.
Mr Cudworth is now planning to develop a more sophisticated way of getting his camera back to Earth.
"I am working on an autonomous return glider - a small foam glider so that when the balloon bursts, instead of it just falling back to earth wherever, the glider will kick in and glide it back to a pre-determined location," he said.
He is reading economics at university, with high altitude photography as "a hobby on the side".
Terry Moore, professor of satellite navigation at the University of Nottingham, said: "I think it is quite incredible what Adam has accomplished on such a small budget, and on his own initiative."