Billingshurst dogwalker makes startling space discovery in nearby woods

A camera capsule released into space by students has been rediscovered by a dogwalker from Billingshurst five months after it was launched.

Chatsmore Catholic High School space camera retrieved after several months. The team inspecting the footage after being reunited with the capsule
Chatsmore Catholic High School space camera retrieved after several months. The team inspecting the footage after being reunited with the capsule

When students from Chatsmore Catholic High School in Worthing launched a camera into space in June, their happiness turned to disappointment after it was lost.

But five months later, a chance discovery by a dogwalker from Billingshurst has reversed their fortunes.

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Simon Best stumbled across the polystyrene capsule filled with cameras, computers and sensors while walking his three dogs with his fiancée Rhianwen and five-month-old son Henry in Flexham Park, between Wisborough Green and Petworth, on Sunday.

Back: Simon Best and Rhianwen. Front: Kieran Malandain, Robert Vella, Peter Byrne, William Clarke, Peter Clarke

The 46-year-old from High Street, Billingshurst, said: “We were pretty much in the middle of the woods and I noticed something black and white cradled in a tree, two feet off the ground. It was weird, because it looked like it had been placed there.

"Now it is winter, the ferns have died back so it stuck out like a sore thumb."

Inspecting the box, the software engineer noticed a label with contact details smudged by the rain. But luckily, the only thing unscathed was the mobile number for Peter Clarke, head of physics, who built the capsule with then-pupils Kieran Malandain and Robert Vella.

When he took the call, Peter said his heart rate measurement was higher than when he had gone on a rollercoaster at Chessington recently: “It was like someone phoning up to say you have won the lottery.”

On June 28, after months of computer programming and testing equipment, the trio launched the camera into space at the school.

The cameras, computers and sensors were carried by a large helium-filled balloon to the edge of space – 31km in the air – to take photographs of the curvature of the earth and film the journey.

Once it reached 100,000ft – three times the cruising altitude for aeroplanes – the balloon expanded to 9.1m in width and popped, causing the parachute to deploy and it to fall back to earth.

Sadly, the team lost contact with the capsule soon after it launched, and after searching the predicted landing site – two miles from where it actually touched down – nothing was found.

Robert, 17, said: “We were all losing hope of seeing the box again and it was becoming a fading memory.

"But then just when you least expect it, *out of the blue*, fate was on our side and the results were incredible.”

Peter said they had retrieved 6.5 hours of high-definition, 360° footage showing the journey and would be editing it for the public to watch online.

The school was also working on another camera launch, which would be taking place soon.