Physics: Sixth Form Pupils Design Solar-Powered Weather Glider


Will, James and Sammy's glider design.

Bede's students James Baldwin, Will Tunna and Sammy Oyemade recently embarked on a project to design a high altitude weather balloon with attached glider, which uses solar cells to power itself and a guidance system to return the glider to its user.

Sammy, who boards in Stud House, said of the design, "We decided that this was a useful project as in remote locations such as Antarctica balloons are sent up and when they burst the sensors fall down without assistance, often miles from where they were originally released. This can cause many problems as the sensors are normally lost, or are incredibly hard to find. "

As using the glider design includes a guidance system, James, Will and Sammy's innovation means that the equipment can be easily returned to the user with minimal effort. Furthermore, the addition of solar cells to power the sensors and guidance system provides means that the glider can be used in remote locations where power is scarce.

"We split the project into 3 main sub-projects that could be researched separately," explains James, who is in Dicker House and is a Deputy Head of School at Bede's this year.

"The first sub-project was deciding which electronics would be used, how they would be connected and the coding of the guidance system. Second was which solar cells would be used, and why they were suitable for our project, and the third was the actual design of the glider, optimizing the aeronautics for our purposes."

From the project, James, Will and Sammy have found a way to efficiently and cost-effective monitor temperature and collect atmospheric data in harsh environments.

"The addition of a dye-synthesised solar cell has allowed us to explore new technology, and effectively offer a renewable energy source for the glider and sensors," clarifies Will. "This system is better than conventional solar cells as they have a higher photon to electron conversion rate."

Elsewhere in the project, the use of ardupilot and servos allows users to take advantage of an easily programmable guidance system to control the glider and ensure its retrieval while efficiently monitoring atmospheric conditions.

"Furthermore," says James, "as ardupilot has low power usage it works well with the solar cells we have chosen."

Finally, the boys discovered that, as their design has a large wing surface area, not only can enough solar power can be generated to power the electronics but, because the wings are long the glider is very stable, which is conducive of high amounts of air time.

"As it is made of foam," says Sammy, "it is durable and capable of withstanding harsh conditions, whilst being light, so is likely to stay in the air for longer."

The next step of James, Will and Sammy's project is to attach their glider to a weather balloon built by Mr King in the Bede's Geography department. After that process has been completed, the prototype glider will begin field testing.