A phone dropped from space? Sounds crazy, but Sutton High School for Girls partnered with UK start-up Mous, known for their viral marketing and engineering know-how, to do an epic 36-kilometer drop from outside the stratosphere. And to everyone's amazement, the phone survived!
“It all started with our viral marketing videos” says Lucy Hutchinson, co-founder and Head of Brand & Design at Mous. “The girls from Sutton High School for Girls saw our viral drop videos and figured they could do even better! They proposed to us a project – which they would execute – where we do a genuinely epic drop by sending an iPhone X to the outer edges of the stratosphere, protected by our case of course.”
“We’re used to dreaming big, but the girls really outdid us” she continued. “As a woman working in a very techy environment, I know that girls often don’t have female role models to look up to in the field – so being able to help with this project was extremely rewarding.”
“We often visited the school or would have skype calls with the girls, but we really just wanted to empower them to organise, design and build everything themselves. We would give them the specs, and they would deliver a solution. And more often than not when we asked them to do something, they’d just give us this look and tell us very slowly ‘that’s not how physics works…’”
To the Mous team’s surprise, the girls took charge immediately. Messages such as “We're the software team, and today we are going to capture the radio signal and decode it so we're able to get longitude and latitude from the payload” became a regular feature in their inbox. The girls organised themselves into teams just like a business would – logistics, hardware, finance, etc.
As the launch day approached, things got tense; although the girls had tested the case by immersing it in liquid nitrogen, no-one knew how the phone would react to temperatures of -69°C that they would encounter on exiting the stratosphere.
Other complications arose as well: as the drop would be from a high-altitude air balloon, fickle winds kept on pushing back the launch date. Finally, on Tuesday 26th June, the Civil Aviation Authority cleared the rig for take-off.
“We were streaming the event live, and reached over 140,000 people with the video, when we noticed that the balloon seemed to be leaking, and that we didn’t have a spare balloon!” In the heat of the moment, the girls called it: if we don’t launch now, we’ll never launch it. The balloon set off into space.
Three hours later, after driving around the dusky Oxfordshire countryside, chasing down the faint radio signals emitted by the makeshift radio kit on the payload, the team finally located what remained of the FabHab, the Fabulous High-altitude Air Balloon. The on-board computer calculated peak ascent height to be 35,800 meters.
“Most past phone or iPad drops have been from 30km or so – so this might very well be a world record!” says Bruce Grey, who filmed the project from start to finish.”
The girls are currently looking into applying for an official world record, and in the words of at least a few: “I’m definitely doing my work placement at Mous!”
“From the science to the engineering to the organisation and management, the girls from Sutton High School managed to oversee and execute a real-life project that left our other stunts looking rather tame,” Hutchinson said. “This just goes on to prove that if they set their mind to it, the sky’s the limit for these girls!”