asgard - ESERO Belgium

ASGARD Balloons for space education
DIY astronautics
for students
Think of a science experiment, build and fly it on a stratospheric balloon
Pieter Mestdagh (ESERO Belgium)
Erik de Schrijver (Sint-Pieterscollege jette)
On April 28th 2016, it will happen again. Ten teams of
pupils and their teachers are preparing their experiments
for a flight to the upper atmosphere. Tension is rising as
the hour of the launch approaches. Erik de Schrijver
knows this. He is a science teacher at Sint-Pieterscollege
in Jette (Brussels) and founder of this space education
project. For this sixth edition, he is again cooperating
with ESERO, the national office of ESA (European Space
Agency) in charge of promoting space education. The
balloon is a gift from the Royal Meteorological Institute
(RMI) and the Solar-Terrestrial Centre of Excellence
tropopause. It is capped by the stratosphere,
wherein the temperature rises again, due to
The atmospheric layer we live in, with its
the absorption of solar UV radiation in the
clouds, precipitation and winds is called the
ozone layer. Asgard weather balloons reach
troposphere. Depending on latitude and
altitudes of 30 to 35kms, deep within the
season, its upper limit varies from 7 to 18 km
stratosphere, which is why these
above sea level. Normal
Once arrived in the
balloons are also referred to as
commercial air traffic takes
stratosphere, you see a
stratospheric balloons.
place in this layer. Within it, the
black sky and a curved
horizon, like in space.
While space officially starts at
increasing altitude, reaching
100km altitude, the conditions in
lows of -50/-60°C at its upper
the stratosphere are not unlike those in
layers. Above the troposphere, the
space: the sky above is pitch black, the
temperature is stable for a few kilometers.
This stable transition layer is called the
Strato... what?
Press release ASGARD
page 1
aug 2014
ASGARD Balloons for space education
horizon shows both Earth's curvature and the
fragile 'thin blue line' of its lower atmosphere.
Schematic presentation of troposphere and stratosphere. The shown altitudes can
vary, depending on the latitude. The ozone layer has a light yellow color to make it
visible, but in reality it is perfectly transparant.
Dry, thin, cold like on Mars
There are many differences in composition
Flying in the Earth stratosphere, the
between the Earth and Mars atmospheres.
temperatures range between -60°C to 0°C.
But high layers of the stratosphere on Earth
These kind of temperatures are very common
has several parameters that are very similar
on Mars.
to the air on the Martial surface.
The weather balloon
Water vapor
allows experimenting in
Air pressure
Almost all water molecules on
Mars-like conditions.
We measure an air pressure of
Earth stay under the stratosphere
about 6 – 7 hectopascal (hPa) at
(they form clouds there). On
the highest point of the ASGARD flight. This is
Mars, water vapor is very rare on all altitudes.
less then 1 % of the pressure at sea level. This
value is about the same on the surface of
UV radiation
On Earth, it is mainly the ozone layer that
blocks the UV radiation (UV B and UV C).
Press release ASGARD
page 2
aug 2014
ASGARD Balloons for space education
Flying above the ozone layer, the ASGARD
balloon experiences elevated UV radiation,
just like on Mars, where ozone hardly exists.
Nevertheless, student teams that will base
their research question on that similarity,
have to take into account that there are also
composition, climatic processes and
We can conclude that the weather balloon
allows experimenting in Mars-like conditions.
Who can participate?
The contest is open to all secondary schools,
to considerable variations during the flight:
Belgian and foreign, and to the third level
temperature, wind speeds, air humidity, solar
(5/6) of Belgian primary schools. A call for
radiation, etc. You could also study clouds or
proposals will be issued to the educational
the effect on living cells. Or you could
community in september 2015. A
measure radiation and other flight
Like a real scientist,
team usually consists of 4 to 5
parameters. Just like professional
students and a teacher helping
scientists, you put in a great deal of
to study effects on the
them manage their project. For
achieve your
subject of the
practical reasons, no bigger teams
objectives. Some cameras are
can be accepted.
always on board to provide some
footage of the near-space
How to register?
Gather a small team and think of a
is 150 grams.
worthwhile experiment you can put together
When you and your team have come up with
yourselves. Specify your research question. A
a cool idea (it might take several
reminder that several parameters are subject
Press release ASGARD
page 3
aug 2014
ASGARD Balloons for space education
brainstorming sessions to achieve this), put it
on paper using our submission form on and submit it before
November 11th 2015. Explain in detail how
you propose to build the necessary hardware,
as technical feasibility is a major criterion for
the jury.
In the morning, the teams give presentations to
one another about their self-made projects. In
the afternoon, the experiments are integrated
in the gondola and their flight-readiness is
A jury with an astronaut
A jury of experts, led by Dirk Frimout,
Belgium's first astronaut,
will select 10 projects out
proposals. Extra teams
might be selected if the
total mass limit is not yet
reached. The jury will
focus on scientific and
Dirk Frimout
creativity, originality and team spirit. The
winning teams are asked to build their
experiment, test it and hand it over to the
organisers before April 18, 2016.
Some young students
are busy with the
final touch on their
2. Thursday April 28th: Plateau Uccle
All teams, including those from the primary
schools, are present at the launch. For the
remainder of the day, they are offered a varied
programme of workshops and guided tours at
the different scientific institutions located at
the ‘Plateau’ in Uccle: the Royal Observatory,
the Royal Meteorological Institute and the
Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy. Late in
the afternoon the gondola descends under a
parachute and is recovered by Erik and a team
of students. The gondola usually lands in
Belgium, between 50 and 100km from
Brussels. Meanwhile, Dirk Frimout gives
lectures about space exploration for all groups.
Selected! What now?
Your team's experiment will be flown on the
gondola. That is the box hanging beneath the
balloon. Its walls are styrofoam for insulation.
Electronics are usually placed inside, while
sensors, or any part of an experiment that
requires exposure to the outside conditions
can be placed on any of the sides of the
The launch campaign covers 3 days:
1. Wednesday
Press release ASGARD
page 4
aug 2014
ASGARD Balloons for space education
3. Friday April 29th:
plant seeds or insect eggs can be
Planetarium Brussels
flown for example, and their
post-flight behaviour compared
experiments being recovered,
with a control group kept on the
the students get to find out if
their experiments worked as
intended. A 'first results'
Teams from secondary schools
presentation is given to the
can decide upon registration
other teams, while a more
whether to apply as 'beginners'
Students with their Arduino kit
thorough analysis of the data
or rather as 'accomplished'.
en met hun Arduino kit
gathered can take place at school in the
Beginners can purchase an Arduino Starters Kit
following weeks. Numerous students base
from the organisers for €50 to help them get
their graduation work/thesis on the Asgard
started on electronics. These popular kits are
experiment or they make their own scientific
ideal to learn about microcontrollers, circuits
and sensors. Selected teams get their kit
refunded, while they can keep it as school
Experience is optional
The purpose of this approach is to motivate
You would like to participate, but you have no
teams to get involved with
experience with electronics? No
electronics. Using Arduino is of
Participation is within reach
course by no means mandatory,
for almost everybody, even
and everyone can send in an
Teams from primary schools
for teams with no experience
experiment without electronic
usually send in proposals with
in technics and electronics.
little or no technology involved:
“The balloon experiment shows how science works: it starts with an idea
and after a long process you get the measurements and your results which
you need to interpret. Maybe, one of those students chooses a scientific
carrier and becomes a colleague.” (Roeland Van Malderen, KMI, 2013)
Press release ASGARD
page 5
aug 2014
ASGARD Balloons for space education
About the partners
Sint-Pieterscollege Jette cooperates with different
partners on Asgard. They are presented in brief here.
Education Resources Office)
exists in nine ESA member
states to support schools and
teachers in their STEM* activities. ESERO uses
astronautics and the enthusiasm it awakens in both
young and old to achieve this.
*STEM = international term for
‘Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics’
Facebook: ESERO.Belgium/België/Belgique/Belgien
Role in the Asgard programme?
ESERO is co-organsier and funder. ESERO takes care
of all practical matters and logistics, and is partly in
charge of communication with the schools.
The Royal Meteorological Institute
(RMI) is a federal scientific institute
devoted to meteorology. Daily
forecasting are supplemented with
a vast programme of scientific
research. The scientists often use weather balloons
for their work.
The 'Solar-Terrestrial Centre of Excellence’ (STCE)
studies the Sun and its influence on
space, the Earth and its
atmosphere. It also encompasses a
service centre for space-weather.
Photos taken by a camera on the
gondola, each at a higher altitude than
the previous.
Press release ASGARD
page 6
aug 2014
ASGARD Balloons for space education
Role in the Asgard programme?
Once a year RMI and STCE donate the balloon
for the Asgard programme. RMI is in charge
of preparing the balloon for launch and puts
its infrastructure at the disposal of the
organisers. Moreover, guided tours are
offered to the teams, including the
climatology parc and the weather office.
The Royal Observatory of
Belgium is a federal scientific
institute devoted to several
fields of astronomy and is
located in Uccle, next to the
Planetarium Brussels
At the Planetarium of
Brussels, you discover
everything there is to
know about astronomy
and astronautics. Watch
a full dome movie
explaing the wonders of stars and planets.
Daily visits for schools and individuals alike.
Role in the Asgard programme?
On the day of the launch, ROB offers guided
tours and puts infrastructure at the disposal of
the organisers.
The Belgian Institute for
Space Aeronomy is a third
federal scientific institute
located at the Plateau in
Uccle. Here, atmospheres
of Earth, planets and other
Role in the Asgard programme?
The day before launch and the day after, the
teams from secondary schools gather at the
Planetarium. The workshops for the primary
schools are given by dedicated Planetarium
personnel. And ESERO has its office in the
Planetarium building.
objects are studied.
Role in the Asgard programme?
BISA offers guided tours and workshops to the
students on the day of the launch.
ASGARD : why ?
Mission statement?
 Actively working on astronautics instead of only reading/dreaming about it.
 Foster interest in science and technology in students of all ages.
 Deepen understanding of curriculum-related topics.
 Promote self-confidence through goal-oriented teamwork.
Why stratospheric balloons?
 Inexpensive compared to other means of access to space or the upper atmosphere
 Payload recovery
 Wide range of scientific objectives possible: Earth observation, atmospheric research,
astronomic observations, …
Press release ASGARD
page 7
aug 2014
ASGARD Balloons for space education
Important dates
Novembre 11th, 2015
December 1st, 2015
April 18th, 2016
April 27-28-29, 2016
Open to whom?
Team size
Selected teams
Proposals submitted
Teams selection
Submit experiment to organisers after building
and testing phase
Launch campaign
All secondary schools (Belgian and foreign),
third level (5/6) of Belgian primary schools
Primary: 1 classgroup + their teacher
Secondary: 4 to 5 students + 1 teacher
2 primary schools,
8 secondary school teams
English, Dutch, French (Presentations are given in English)
Sint-Pieterscollege Jette Erik de Schrijver
[email protected]
0486 78 70 63
ESERO België
[email protected]
02 474 70 58
0475 75 55 15
ESERO Belgique
[email protected]
02 474 70 66
0499 38 55 53
Press release ASGARD
page 8
aug 2014