Air monitoring rocket set for second launch attempt

Rocket equipped with air pollution monitoring equipment failed to reach desired height at Cheshire launch earlier this month

University of Leicester researchers will once again attempt to capture air quality data from equipment fitted to a rocket after a recent launch attempt failed in Cheshire.

Earlier this month (February 4), the 4.1 metre (14 feet) tall Tempest rocket’s engines failed shortly after its launch from Capesthorne Hall in front of a crowd of school children, with the rocket only managing to reach as high as 50 feet in the air.

A second attempt to launch the Tempest rocket will take place on June 11 2015

A second attempt to launch the Tempest rocket will take place on June 11 2015

The University researchers and aerial survey firm Bluesky had been aiming for the rocket to reach around 3,000 feet in order to capture nitrogen dioxide, ozone, temperature and humidity data from monitoring equipment in its cone and to then descend back to earth with the aid of a parachute.

Speaking to about the launch attempt, academic supervisor the University of Leicester and project leader, Dr Roland Leigh, said: “That launch did not go to plan, I think it is fair to say. The engines failed on that occasion, it got up to around 50 feet in the air and then bumped back down to earth.”

However, a second launch attempt date has now been slated for June 11 2015 at Capesthorne Hall, and the researchers are confident of both success and growing interest in the project.

Developed by space products firm Starchaser Industries, the Tempest rocket has been designed to reach speeds of up to 200mph, but while Dr Leigh said there were a lot of challenges involved in rocket launches, he said that the firm had had “a lot of very successful launches in the past”.

In the cone of the rocket Dr Leigh said the team had fitted monitoring equipment powered by a “four pack of AA batteries”, but ahead of the launch in June he said the project team were now “reconfiguring the nose cone to be as light and small as possible”.

He added: “We are really pushing ourselves on the hardware and engineering for the rocket.”

Local television news crews attended the failed launch earlier this month, and with all the media interest surrounding the project, Dr Leigh said the team would make sure the data is available quickly after the second launch in June.

Dr Leigh said: “Rocket launches are definitely good for capturing people’s imagination and attention. It has increased the media interest in air quality and what we are doing, and it will be even bigger for the next launch.”

The rocket is part of a wider air pollution mapping project at the University being supported by Bluesky, which has seen monitoring work across cities from ground sensors, cars and planes.

Between now and the next launch, other research work on air quality and traffic management involving Bluesky will continue, with an announcement on further results of its air quality mapping work due next week.


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