Press releases


Press releases


    55 Mars science experiments from 33 UK schools ascend to the stratosphere

    Cannes, October 27th 2014 - The MARSBalloon mission launched yesterday 55 student experiments designed to carry out real Mars science. These experiments were designed and created by UK primary and secondary school students. This is the second flight of a unique project aimed to encourage young people to take up careers in the UK space industry. The project was devised and is run by young space engineers from Thales Alenia Space (TAS) UK with funding from the Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

    The experiments were carried over 30km up into Earth’s atmosphere on a high altitude balloon, named Elysium after a volcanic region of Mars, where they experienced temperatures as low as -50°C, pressures of 1% of that at sea level and increased levels of radiation; conditions which are very similar to that of the surface of Mars. These conditions can rapidly degrade materials, damage electronics and sterilise organics.

    The students were set the challenge to come up with experiments for testing anything that humans might want to take or do on Mars in the future. All of the experiments had to fit inside a Kinder Surprisetm toy capsule and were mounted onto a special tray beneath the balloon to maximise their exposure to the hostile environment.

    The mission was launched from a Thales UK testing site in the Mendips at 12:05pm. The balloon and experiments then rose to a maximum altitude of 31,240m at which the balloon burst and the experiments fell via parachute for a landing in Bramshill Forest, Eversley (112km from the launch site). The on-board tracking system then allowed the launch team to recover the tray and all of the experiments safely two hours later.

    The idea for the mission was inspired by the need to show how fun and diverse careers in space engineering and science (and other STEM subjects) can be to meet the government’s goal of quadrupling the size of the UK Space industry by 2030. This means the industry is going to need 70,000 new space engineers, operators and scientists in the next 15 years to continue the vital work that Space science and satellites do for our world. The project was also intended to allow UK students to carry out original Mars science, an opportunity that is not currently available to schools anywhere else in the world.

    This launch follows a previous MARSBalloon mission, named Tharsis after another volcanic region of Mars, which successfully flew in June 2014 with 80 experiments from 30 schools.

    UK secondary school teachers interested in entering their class or club onto flights planned for 2015 should register on the project website:

    The experiments recovered from Elysium will be returned to the students who made them. They will be encouraged to write up their scientific results for publishing on the project website.

    About Thales Alenia Space UK:
    Thales Alenia Space opened in 2014 a British subsidiary in England, based in Harwell, Oxfordshire, and completed the acquisition of SEA space business activities, in Bristol. The new subsidiary will provide expertise in systems engineering, electronics, sensors and space mission subsystems. Thales Alenia Space UK will also be an integral part of Thales Alenia Space Neosat prime engineering activities, contributing to the design and production of the propulsion subsystem for this new platform. With more than 60 employees, Thales Alenia Space UK intends to become the second major space actor in the United-Kingdom.

    About the Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC):
    The STFC is a world-leading multi-disciplinary science organisation, with the goal to deliver economic, societal, scientific and international benefits to the UK and its people – and more broadly to the world.

    Thales Alenia Space Press Contacts:

    Sandrine Bielecki
    Tel: +33 (0)4 92 92 70 94
    Tarik Lahlou
    Tel: +33 (0)4 92 92 68 45