Sydney’s very own space agency: Brand and son
*** Recovered from the Archives ***
This excerpt from the Sydney Morning Herald, January 16, 2012. UpLift-1 in the Sydney Morning Herald
Sydney space enthusiast Robert Brand and his 9-year-old son Jason recently launched a high-tech weather balloon a quarter of the way to space, retrieving images and flight data to help school children get a better understanding about space.
Mr Brand, of Dulwich Hill, has a history with space – at age 17 he wired up some of the Apollo 11 communications gear in Sydney during his term break from college. He was also stationed at the CSIRO Parkes Observatory in New South Wales at the request of the European Space Agency for spacecraft Giotto’s encounter with Halley’s comet in 1986 and Voyager’s encounter with Uranus and Neptune in 1986 and ’89. Also under his belt is an award from NASA for support of STS-1, the first orbital flight of the Space Shuttle program, presented personally by the commander and moon walker John Young.
So when it came time for Mr Brand to launch his own gear towards space he was well prepared, documenting his do-it-yourself journey on his personal blog wotzup.com for other space enthusiasts to watch and track.
Jason and his father Robert celebrate with ginger beer (soda/soft drink) after retrieving their weather balloon, which captured data and images on a mission a quarter of the way to space. Photo: Supplied
“[The balloon launch] was being done to help science education in the Sydney area and anywhere else in fact because we were publishing [on the internet] all of the information and data that we got from the balloon launch,” said Mr Brand, 59.
Launch day was December 28, 2011 from Rankins Springs near Goolgowi in Central NSW. As the balloon got up to about 85,000 feet (25.9 kilometres) above Earth before it burst, Mr Brand and his son tracked it using amateur radio.
“During the flight we were actually relaying data back to the ground and off to a server and that allowed people from all over the world to actually participate with this flight and track it as it was going,” Mr Brand said. “We were getting back a lot of comments on some of the social media [services] such as Facebook just really helping us understand what they were sort of getting out of the whole project. People were sort of yelling loudly if you could put it that way, on the [wotzup] website claiming ‘Hey, they’ve reached this height and that height’, and so there was a lot of really great audience participation in this.”
Robert and his son pump the weather balloon with helium before launch. Photo: Supplied
The data being sent back from the balloon – which was later recovered about 50 kilometres away from where it was launched – tracked altitude, position, rate of climb, payload temperature, payload voltage and air pressure, Mr Brand said. The balloon also has a camera on board that captured still images. “We could actually see as [the balloon] hit different wind levels in the atmosphere and eventually we got up into a jet stream and actually found that we had two jet streams,” Mr Brand added.
When the balloon finally popped it came hurtling back towards Earth at about 40 metres per second, according to flight data.
“So this thing was falling a bit like a brick would fall at ground level but it slowed down and eventually the parachute dropped it on the ground at about six metres per second,” Mr Brand said.
Photos from Robert and Jason Brand’s weather balloon flight
The view from 10,666 metres, the height at which commercial jets will normally fly at. Photo: Robert and Jason Brand
The balloon (payload) was put together with the help of senior students at Sydney Secondary College at Blackwattle Bay, who Brand sought to get involved with the project and tasked them with doing a whole stack of materials testing. They tested the Styrofoam and how it reacted in zero atmosphere as well as the glue, ensuring it would hold throughout the flight. “The students were putting these materials in a bell jar and sucking the air out of it . . . and checking all of the materials held together – and to protect some of the electronics from the very cold temperatures of about minus 50 Celsius we simply used bubble wrap. … You’d be surprised to know that bubble wrap doesn’t explode when it gets into pretty much zero atmosphere.”
The photos that came back from maximum altitude look “pretty much like that taken from a space shuttle”, Mr Brand said.
“So very dark skies looking at this very thin blue line around the Earth which is our atmosphere and protective layer. It’s a bit scary when you see that photo and realise how thin the Earth’s atmosphere really is.”
When it came time to recover the balloon it was tracked to landing on a field near the small town of Weethalle in NSW, Mr Brand said. “There was nothing growing on it. It seemed to have been abandoned.”
After knocking on a farm door to no avail, he and his son entered the field to locate the balloon. After driving “pretty much right on top of it” it was recovered, allowing for the father and son duo to publish the photos it captured that weren’t sent back live but stored on the camera attached to the balloon.
Mr Brand hopes to do more balloon launches and get schools involved.
“I’ll keep doing this each year and trying to get . . . more interest in the school year earlier in the year. I’m very keen to hear from people that might be interested in getting involved.”
End of article: UpLift-1 in the Sydney Morning Herald