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How we sent our new Platinum Credit Card into space
11th Nov 2018
When you’re launching a new balance transfer credit card that’s out of this world, we reckon there’s only one way to do it – by actually launching it out of this world. How you ask?
To celebrate the release of our new MBNA Platinum Credit Card, we joined forces with a team of top science boffins to send an actual credit card to the edge of space, testing the limits of MBNA card plastic and embracing our love of everything geeky. As you can imagine, it involved a lot of sums... fantasy stuff for a credit card number ninja.
You can see from the video above, which captures our card’s 110,000ft vertical ascent, the world looks pretty stunning from 20 miles up.
As any astronaut supremo will tell you, planning is everything when it comes to organising a space mission, and our voyage towards the final frontier was no exception.
Working with a top UK near space agency, we started by letting the Civil Aviation Authority know what we were up to. They then sent a notice to other airspace users to reassure them that they didn’t need to worry if they happened to spot a credit card floating by (as random as that sounds).
Next it was a case of working out when we would have the optimum conditions for launch. The weather at ground level isn’t too important on this front. It’s the conditions thousands of feet up that really matter.
“Rain is fine,” Louis Cox, technical manager of the team at Sheffield-based SentIntoSpace, assured us, “the big thing is the wind because that affects the drift and where the balloon carrying the card is going to end up”.
Every day, the Met Office sends a couple of balloons (known as radiosondes) into the skies to record weather patterns. The launch team pored over the data from these to pick the perfect time slot.
“We had to cancel the first launch because our projections showed it landing too close to Leeds,” Louis continued. “You want to land in a field wherever possible, rather than straying too close to any major roads or built-up areas”.
Once conditions improved it was all systems go, with our card-carrying balloon lifting off from a site in Sheffield, South Yorkshire.
While your average space shuttle takes off at a speed of 18,000 miles per hour, our mission had a more chilled start, heading into the sky at around 15 miles per hour.
The MBNA Platinum Credit Card was secured in its own 3D-printed aluminium bracket, while six GoPro cameras captured every moment of flight.
The decreasing pressure meant the helium-filled balloon expanded as it climbed, stretching to a diameter of 10 metres. Then at 110,000 feet, or a little over 20 miles up, it finally popped – although not before the cameras recorded some truly stunning footage of the world stretching out below.
As you might imagine, it’s a little nippy up there and our plucky little credit card withstood temperatures of minus 60 degrees Celsius - woolly hats off to the power of plastic. To keep the cameras snapping in these extreme conditions, they were wrapped up in insulation foam and foil.
Air pressure at the top of the stratosphere is just three or four millibars. To put that into perspective for any non-physicists, that’s less than one per cent of the pressure at sea level here on Earth.
The start of the descent then saw the rig carrying the card freefall at a speed of more than 100 metres per second - equivalent to over 220mph - before its parachute opened to deliver it safely down to earth.
An on-board GPS allowed the SentIntoSpace team to keep tabs on exactly where our card was, meaning they could race to the land site to collect it, which happened to be a field just outside Castleford in West Yorkshire.
“We’re pretty good at plotting where the payload is going to touch down,” said Louis. “Our aim is one day to be there so we can actually catch it. As you can imagine, this is a job that involves a lot of running around in fields”. Just as well Louis looks great in wellies.
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