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30,000 metres vertical ascent: Cyclist's biggest ever Big Ride

Trevor Ward
27 Oct 2020

Thanks to Stratonauts UK, Cyclist magazine reached an altitude of over 100,000 feet

Unless Neil Armstrong was a secret bike rider who stowed his favourite reading material on board Apollo 11, Cyclist magazine can now claim to have travelled further, faster and higher than any other cycling publication.

We were launched to the edge of space from a farm just outside East Kilbride last month by Stratonauts, a research, education and marketing company that describes itself as 'Scotland’s leading near-space launch provider'.

The Cyclist cover reached an altitude of 102,377 feet (31,204.5 metres) during its three-hour journey. During its descent back to earth, it reached speeds of 150mph (241kmh).

I’m the cover star and my extra-terrestrial journey was arranged as a birthday present by my wife, Cat. I have manually uploaded the details to Strava and am bracing myself for a barrage of “red flags”.

The subscribers’ cover of issue 28 was tethered to a balloon containing more than three cubic metres of helium and released only after weeks of planning.

'As well as checking the weather forecast, we had to file a Notam – Notice To All Airmen – with air traffic control,' says Dr Andy Campbell, the official Stratonauts 'balloon wrangler'.

'Though the balloon was only two metres in diameter when it took off, the volume of helium increased as it got higher, eventually stretching the balloon to around 10 metres across.

'We had little control over it once it was released. We used specialist software to calculate its trajectory based on its payload and the wind speeds at different altitudes. We had three tracking systems on board so we could follow it, and a GoPro camera that filmed continuously from launch to landing.

'The camera was our main challenge – they don’t like the cold, and the temperature up there was minus 60 degrees.'

The mission went to plan, with the balloon hovering over east Scotland where I live – that’s the Firth of Forth you can see below – before eventually bursting as the helium expanded because of the lack of atmospheric pressure (a hundredth of what it is at ground level).

At that point, the Cyclist cover began its return back to earth, freefalling for 65,000 feet (19,812m) before wind resistance activated a parachute. It landed, as planned, 18 miles from the launch site.

'Unfortunately, you landed nose down,' says Dr Campbell, 'which meant the plastic lanyard snapped. Other than that, Cyclist made a text book re-entry!'

 

Previously, Stratonauts have launched computer games and beer into space. Their launch of Fortnite attracted 1.7 million viewers on YouTube, while their mission for Brewdog beer had an unexpected finale.

'To celebrate their new beer, we launched a bottle from Berlin,' says Dr Campbell. 'The beer arrived back in Berlin intact, but it landed on the roof of an apartment block in a dodgy part of the city. We had to call the fire brigade to rescue it for us.'

The souvenirs I have left from my space mission include the laminated magazine cover and the remains of the balloon, 'which is completely bio-degradable meaning your mission has had zero environmental impact,' says Dr Campbell.

'More importantly, you have something that’s pretty priceless – a magazine cover with your face on it that’s been to space and back.'

If you’ve got anything you’d like launched into space, contact stratonauts.org.

Photos by Stratonauts UK

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