Why Break the Sound Barrier with a Small Aircraft?

Supersonic Glider-spacecraftThe Sound Barrier is a Major Steppingstone

As I announced in my last post, Jason, my 12 year old son, will attempt to break the sound barrier. Above I mention that this is actually a steppingstone. “A steppingstone to what?” you may ask. The simple answer is “to build a spacecraft”. So why to we need to break the sound barrier? Well we want to test transonic flight. Not on the way up, but on the way down! ie slowing from supersonic speeds above the sound barrier (Mach 1 and higher) to subsonic speeds )below Mach1


This is the hard part for any craft that I may build in the future. We can always buy a ride to space on one of the many well known rockets such as ESA’s Ariane rocket or SpaceX’s Falcon9. So what is the grand plan?

Personally, I see the future of any craft that I build (within an aerospace company) as being a reentry vehicle to return samples from space. This will mean transiting a number of challenging areas in its return to earth. Two of the critical areas are

  • the initial intersection with the atmosphere that will cause massive heating of the exposed portions of the craft – this often requires either:
    • an ablative shield – one that wears away as it heats, carrying the heat away
    • a strong insulator such as the tiles used on the space shuttle
  • crossing the sound barrier – that is the transonic area of flight. This is from Mach 1 to Mach 0.75 – the speed of sound down to 75% the speed of sound.

Hyabusa reentry sequencIf we were using a capsule like the Japanese Space Agency’s (JAXA) return capsule, Hyabusa, transonic regions would not be a problem, but I believe that the future for me is in building an aircraft-like reentry glider that will allow up to 20Kg of payload to safely transit to earth.

The picture to the right is  the landing sequence for JAXA’s Hyabusa that landed in the centre of Australia. It is not complicated, but you do have to know what you are doing and the downside is that it lands whether the winds take the parachute.

I want to fix that problem. I would love to be able to direct the returning spacecraft to a point on the map that allows us to land it without having to recover it from an unknown place in the desert.

Supersonic Aircraft SpikeThe picture at the top of page is somewhat like the expected end product. I expect that the spike will not be on the spacecraft, but it will be on the transonic test vehicle.

The picture at right is a test vehicle with a spike. There are many supersonic aircraft that either have a spike of a very sharp nose well ahead of the wings.

Returning from space the spike would be a liability in the heat of reentry. It will also not be an asset in slowing down a craft. We only need to have the spike to help lower the Resistance to breaking the sound barrier for our tests. In our tests we will use gravity to accelerate the test craft to way past the speed of sound, but shock waves (pressure waves) would slow us down and limit our top speed. We would probably still break the sound barrier dropping the craft from around 40km altitude, but the quicker we transit the sound barrier the higher our top speed.

So what does the spike do?

supersonic shockwaves in a windtunnelAs I said a sharp nose is the same as a spike and the image to the left shows the effect of the spike as it moves the shock wave to the point and away from the wings. A sharp point is a very low area of shock and in the image you can see the shock waves from the wings as very low level compared to the shock from the tiny front of the aircraft. So long as the wings are tucked in behind the initial shock wave than the resistance to flight is lowered.

Now I may have been a bit simplistic here, but none the less, the spike is important to supersonic flight. Since we are wanting to slow down, we can actually round the nose of the returning spacecraft after we conclude the test flights.

So Why Didn’t the Shuttle Need One?

WPointy nose and shockwaves at mach 6.ell it did need to slow down and so you might think that a blunt nose is a good thing, but that is not the reason. But wouldn’t a sharp nose be good for takeoff, spike or no spike? Well yes, but the shuttle had wings that were very wide and a spike could not be placed that far forward. The resulting shock waves on takeoff and especially re-entry would be a bit problem as they would hit the wings.

Re-entry would be the biggest problem. The shock wave from a pointy nose would hit the wings and further heat the air. You would be adding thousands of degrees to the heat that it is already being generated on the leading edge of the wing – not a good idea!

The image above right shows a pointy nose model in a mach 6 airstream. You can see the shock waves hitting the wings midway along their leading edge.

So What Happens with a Blunt Nose?

The image to the right says it all. The blunt nose acts as a ram and pushes the shock wave way to the side. This misses the wings by a long way. The blunt nose does add to drag so that is another benefit, but a minor one.

What Else Protected the Shuttle from Shock?

Ever consider the orange main fuel tank? Where was the shuttle positioned relative to its nose. It had a point, but was really broad.

What effect did that have during launch at high speeds. The shock wave that resulted missed the shuttle entirely. It is important that the top of this tank was far enough forward to protect the shuttle. The whole design and shape of the combined modules on the launch vehicle was super critical and not just a random bunch of sizes. Minimizing shock waves means being able to both protect the vehicle and increase the payload as you have less drag.

In other words, if the main tank had needed less fuel and had been smaller, then it would still have needed to be as high to push the shock waves aside.

Each and every part of an aircraft that changes its size or sticks out causes shock. You must account for it or suffer the consequences.

The image at right clearly shows the  shock wave of the jet disturbing the water. You do not have to be traveling at supersonic speeds to produce shock waves, but the faster you go, the more power is lost and the stronger the shock wave.


Australian Student (12) to Attempt Breaking the Sound Barrier with Radio Controlled Aircraft

UpLift-2Jason Brand to Attempt Breaking the Sound Barrier with Model Aircraft.

In the next 12 months, Jason Brand will attempt to break the sound barrier. He is a 12 year old student from Sydney Secondary College, Balmain Campus and is a regular kid with a passion for aerospace. Not surprising as his father, Robert Brand, is one of Australia’s leading space entrepreneurs.

The event will be a huge media attraction as nothing like this has been attempted before, especially by a 12 year old Student. It will consist of a zero pressure balloon ride by the aircraft to nearly 40Km altitude. The aircraft will be released and immediately be placed into a vertical dive as Jason pilots the vehicle by remote control. He will be wearing goggles that will allow him to see the view from the cockpit and all the important instrumentation. This Point Of View (POV) feed and possibly a HD feed will be available for a live feed for the media during the event. HD TV images will be recorded in memory aboard the aircraft.

pressure wavesJason has been studying supersonic wind flow over the control surfaces and the the loss of laminar flow away from control surfaces. Add to this the drag of shock waves. He and his father have come up with a design that has minimal laminar flow issues and low drag to ensure that Jason can maintain control as the aircraft exceeds the sound barrier by as much as possible. He has also been studying Mcr and Mdr and P and a whole lot of other important factors . Look them up! Yes the flight will be similar to the original sound barrier flights by pilots such as Chuck Yeager.

The flight will involve shifting the centre of gravity during the super sonic and sub sonic flight stages and retracting the supersonic spike during normal flight. The craft will be using an ITAR controlled GPS system that is capable of operating at well over the speed of sound. Video feeds will be available for the press in real time and HD video will be stored on the aircraft in memory as will be the GPS sampling.

UpLift-1 Launch with Jason BrandJason’s interest in “what’s up there” dates back to 2009 when he was 9 years old. His father decided to launch a weather balloon to the stratosphere and recover the payload and the camera. It was a great success. They launched the first balloon from the sleepy town of Rankin Springs in central NSW. They chased the balloon with radio tracking and the flight progress, with Google terrain was broadcast on the Internet during the flight. The jet stream was slow that day and they were sitting in the shade having lunch when the balloon burst at 24Km and the payload started its decent. After a few lessons in getting to the right field through a maze of gates and fences, they recovered their first payload. Today, Jason, along with his father are veterans of 18 flights and 18 recoveries. a 100% record and they intend keeping that way through science. The picture above is Jason picking up a video camera from a payload while the still camera just happened to snap his picture. After the first balloon flight he got his Foundation Amateur Radio Operators License (HAM) by doing a course at the Waverley Amateur Radio Club. He is now passionate about radio systems in regards to assisting with his goals in Aerospace.

IMG_1883His love balloon flights and model aircraft has grown. He recently designed and built a 1.5 horsepower tricopter which can lift 2Kg of load. He has also traveled to Croatia at the invitation of Team Stellar. Jason is the Australian Student Representative for Team Stellar – a Team in the Google Lunar X-Prize. He and his father (Head of Communications, Tracking and Data for Team Stellar) were invited to Croatia to launch Student payloads into the stratosphere – a difficult task in such a small country where the need to keep the balloon and payload within the borders is paramount. Add to that the large amount of forested land, swamps and mountains; not to mention the massive problem of leftover land mines from the recent wars with bordering countries. The flights were using the largest balloons and achieved a height of over 30Kms, one reaching 33.33km – one third of the way to space.

Jason spoke in front of many scientists, teachers  and engineers over recent years including Teachers at Science Week in Albury, Engineers Australia and the Skeptics group in Croatia. He has appeared on TV in Croatia and Australia. Below is a recent interview of a major balloon event in Croatia where Jason was a key person in the project.

The attempt will cost $60,000 and he is seeking sponsorship. One Sydney University has offered assistance and resources such as wind tunnel testing. The attempt will be with CASA approval and may be required to be located away from most air traffic in remote areas of Australia.

If you are interested in sponsoring the event please contact via homepc@rbrand.com

Media Contact: Robert Brand (International) +61 448 881 101   (national) 0448 881 101

Team Stellar Balloon Flights

Team Stellar Balloons in Croatia

Here is a post straight from the Team Stellar news pages. I will have a lot more detail in a few posts soon. It was an incredible trip with really hard parameters. Jason (12) and myself went with Team Stellar’s CTO – Tim Blaxland. You can read directly this short post from Team Stellar’s website about the success and other news at:


Yes, we launched from the heart of Zagreb! I have never launched a balloon from the middle of a city before, nor in the harsh conditions we encountered. Success was pretty much guaranteed with our reliance on well-known science for the planning.

Stellar News

Balloon Stellar Stratosphere Update

During the last week, Team Stellar launched  two science balloons into the stratosphere, about 30 km above the Earth’s surface, to collect data for the purposes of diverse student-designed experiments of the competition participants.

We brought to Croatia three team members from Australia to help us with the launch and the recovery of the balloons. Robert Brand and his son Jason hold the world record with the perfect score of 16/16 successful launches, and recoveries. Their score is even better now, with two new successes. Tim Blaxland also came to help in organizing the launches.

The first balloon was launched on April 21. It was cloudy and it was raining, we were waiting for hours for a suitable moment to launch. After a few hours, we decided to go. The balloon achieved the maximum altitude was 109,500 ft (over 33 km). The recovery was very difficult, because the payload finished its fall on the top of a really high tree. After a lot of trouble, our guys somehow managed to take it down from the tree.

The second launch was done in somewhat better conditions. It was less cloudy and no rain. We launched the second group of student experiments. We also had an experiment with full HD, 1080p Wireless (WLAN) live stream from the stratosphere. The experiment was successful, and you could watch live stream on our web page. The Balloon reached the altitude of 30,862 m.

The recovery of the second balloon was very easy. The payload fell right in front of our chase team, on the flat land.

We are now returning the experiments to the teams, so that the students can see what their experiments have measured and what kind of data were collected in the stratosphere.


My own piece of Hardware in Orbit

kicksatKickSat Mothership Achieves Orbit.

by Robert Brand

Remember the small prototype of our KickSat (photo right)? In mid April, 2014 it was tucked inside its mothership and that was inside the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that blasted into orbit with the ISS resupply cargo module.

Wikipedia says:This was the SpaceX CRS-3, a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station, contracted to NASA, which was launched on 18 April 2014. It was the 5th flight for SpaceX’s uncrewed Dragon cargo spacecraft and the third SpaceX operational mission contracted to NASA under a Commercial Resupply Services contract.”

“This was the first launch of a Dragon capsule on the Falcon 9 v1.1 launch vehicle, as previous launches used the much smaller v1.0 configuration. It was also the first time the F9 v1.1 has flown without a payload fairing, and the first experimental flight test of an ocean recovery of the first stage on a NASA/Dragon mission.”

So what became of our KickSat? Well this was a joint effort from a few good Facebook friends. We chipped in a $100 each to own our first bit of space hardware and we just hoped it would get into orbit. Shelley Marie Johnson and April Larson joined with me and for US$300 we secured our KickSat.

On the 18th April 2014, the three of us actually owned a piece of hardware in orbit and it was there for 4 weeks!

In Orbit! Let me repeat that much louder:


KickSat MothershipSadly it never deployed from the mothership. The clock died in orbit – probably a high energy particle hitting the wrong part of the processor chip! Oh well. None the less our little baby was in orbit. The image on the right shows what it was supposed to do – the KickSat antennas also being the springs used to deploy the Sprites.

This is a quote from Wikipedia and is accurate: The KickSat CubeSat, which was developed by Cornell University and funded through a campaign on the KickStarter website, was intended to deploy a constellation of 104 cracker-sized femtosatellites called “Sprites”, or “ChipSats”. Each Sprite is a 3.2-centimeter (1.3 in) square which includes miniaturised solar cells, a gyroscope, magnetometer and a radio system for communication. KickSat failed to deploy the Sprites, and reentered the atmosphere on 14 May.

NASA EDGESo it orbited for 4 weeks while they tried to get it to deploy the small KickSats / Sprites and then burned up on re-entry without deploying them.

On another note, NASA Edge TV wanted to interview me over the KickSat and what it meant to me and others following its progress. An 8 minute interview that was prelaunch. After 2 launch failures, NASA EDGE decided not to got back for the next launch window as the weather was bad. The weather cleared and they launched, so no interview! Maybe next time.

None the less – I had my first piece of hardware in orbit. Something that I owned (with 2 others) circled the earth every 90 minutes for 4 weeks! An amazing and wonderful experience.

kicksat1    kicksat-1__1

Pico Balloon Update

Andy Balloon altitude over AustraliaPico Balloon Departs Australia

Andy’s Pico Balloon Update: It has now passed over the bottom of Fraser Island in SE Queensland and out to sea.

Next stop may be South America in a week’s time. We do not expect to hear from the balloon until then, but it may pass over New Zealand or Tonga.

At right is the altitude details from the spacenear.us website. The balloon took about 2 hours to get to just over 8km altitude and because it is a foil balloon and cannot expand, it then sits at that altitude day and night. You can see a small dip as the sun sets until it warms up again the next day. It then rises as the balloon skin expands in the heat. Air pressure will also cause the balloon to rise or fall as will vertical air currents.

The balloon will change APRS frequencies as it crosses different longitudes but the RTTY frequencies stay standard across the world.

Below is the last track of the balloon crossing the coast today.

Andy says that the payload weighs 13 grams or less than half an ounce and consists of:

  • APRS and RTTY transmitters (10mW)
  • A GPS receiver
  • rechargeable batteries
  • solar panel
  • Insulation

The gas is helium and the metal foil balloon should not deteriorate much in a week. The gas also does not leak out very much from a foil balloon compared to a latex or other non-metal balloon.

Note that because the balloon is so light, it is classified as a small balloon and does not need to involve CASA to be able to fly such balloons.

Andy Balloon departing Australia

Robert Brand – Speaker

Robert Brand Speaking at Spacefest VI 2014

Need a Speaker for that Special Dinner?

Want a passionate and entertaining speaker for your event? Someone that motivates, tells a story with enthusiasm and clarity, someone that has done it all!

Robert spoke at Spacefest in Pasadena, Ca in May 2014 and received comments such as “that presentation alone was worth the cost of registration”.

Twitter messages continued for weeks after the event. This one from @cybernova: Reminiscing on how incredible the 3D images of Mars and the lunar landing looked. Huge thanks to @robertbrand for putting that together! – 29 May 2014

So why the excitement? Robert is a skilled presenter who speaks about topics ranging from Space to Inspiring kids to think big.

Robert presenting in CroatiaYes Space! Robert is one of Australia’s leading space entrepreneurs and building space services and some a space craft. At the age of 17 he even worked on the Apollo 11 switching centre in Sydney that brought the world the feed of Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. Since then he has worked in supported most of NASA’s Apollo missions, Skylab, Voyager and was stationed at the Parkes Telescope for ESA’s Giotto probe to Halleys Comet.

Robert worked in Communications for these space events, but at the age of 59 migrated quickly into the Space sector, making an instant hit world wide. He has appeared many times on ABC Radio on such shows as Linda Mottram’s Morning Show in Sydney (702), Richard Glover’s Drive (702) The Science Show, Radio Australia’s Breakfast Club and many stations around Australia.

ABC Radio’s Linda Mottram: Robert Brand’s expansive vision for Australia in aerospace is inspiring and exciting. He has the kind of energy and vision that could easily make Australia a leader. How starkly it contrasts with the mundane pronouncements from political leaders that leave so many of our best brains running for the door.

Internationally he has appeared on Radio in the UK, The Space Show in the US and This Week in Science (US). He has also had many TV appearances in Australia commenting on current space matters.

Robert speaks regularly at Spacefest in the US where he competes for a speaking spot with space experts from all over the world. He has spoken for the last 3 consecutive years on the same program as Apollo astronauts, mission controllers, planetary scientists and the key note speakers like Prof. Brian Cox (UK) and Dr Carolyn Porco. He has also spoken at ISDC and space conferences throughout Australia as well as Engineers Australia. The video below shows Robert and his son Jason (12) in Croatia launching balloons and being interviewed on Croatian TV. Robert is not just someone that did something great in the past, he is pushing forward into new and amazing frontiers.

Robert’s subjects although they appear mainly science and space oriented; include:

  • Motivating youth to achieve their goals
  • 3D slide presentations
  • Using Social Media to accelerate career change
  • Thinking outside of the box to stimulate new ideas and create change when budgets diminish
  • Wild Sports. Diving with sharks, cave diving, flying ultralights, gliding, climbing, abseiling, etc
  • Stratospheric balloons – 19 successful flights and recoveries – breaking records.

His presentation slides are mainly original material from many of his exploits, balloon and space work, but he does not repeat any text from the screen. His presentations are all about natural speech and because “he knows his stuff” he talks effortlessly to engage the audience.

Robert and Jason presenting in CroatiaHe sometimes speaks with his 12 year old son Jason. Jason is an accomplished speaker and demonstrates how a young mind can grow when not limited by normal constraints. Jason will be attempting to break the sound barrier with a Radio Controlled aircraft in the next 12 months. He will fly it as if he is in the cockpit using a video radio link and home built equipment all of his design.

Jason has spoken at Engineers Australia with his father and in front of 100 scientists in Croatia.

Robert Brand’s speaking fees are $3,000 for a dinner, lunch or breakfast engagement in Sydney. Other cities or engagements will need to be subject to a quotation.

As an introductory offer, for 2014, his standard fee, if booked direct, will be 50% off.


Robert’s style is passionate and energetic and he moves and gesture a lot. Boring is not in his vocabulary. He sometimes challenges the audience so there is usually a bit of interaction. He also uses the occasional prop. A cordless microphone is preferred. A projector and laser pointer are essential and he must use my own PC if doing a 3D presentation.

Balon Stellar - Stratosfera 30km and RoverRobert is also the head of the Communications, Tracking and Data for Stellar – a space company sending a rover to the moon in the next three years. Jason is the Australian Student Representative. Together they travel internationally to talk about Space and to launch Stratospheric Balloons with student payloads to help stimulate space science in those countries. They have just returned from Croatia.

Robert will speak at “no cost” or a cost recovery basis on occasional Radio and TV interviews as well as presentations for small associations, not for profit groups and student focused groups. Simply ask.

Call +61 448 881 101

Robert and Jason presenting in Croatia

Our New Online Shop Opening Soon

Totex 100 gram Red BalloonGreat News – Our Shop is Opening Soon

We will be setting up an online shop and selling weather balloons, balloon equipment, radio systems and much more for those interested in flying High altitude weather balloons and much more. I will also be selling general comms equipment from time to time and HAM radio equipment to verified HAM radio operators. Keep watching!

Note that we are located in Australia and the shop is for the convenience of Australians who may not be able to wait for a delivery from overseas. We will not be the cheapest, but we will be the best.

Right now I have 44 x 100 gram Totex Red Balloons ($20 each), some 350 gram weather balloons ($50 each) and 2 x 3kg weather balloons. These 3Kg balloons are well over their expiry date (maybe about 3 years old – good for displays ($150 each). If you want any of these you will need to contact me on 0448 881 101.

I will calculate postage by Australia post depending on what you order. eg 500 gram express post bag can handle 4 X 100 gram balloons + bubble wrap and costs $15. The same to New Zealand will be $20 postage; to the US $25 postage and to anywhere else $30 postage.

Balloon specs here: http://www.esands.com/pdf/Meteorology/Totex_TA_Balloons_070213_web.pdf for Totex

We will be supplying NEW Totex weather balloons, although we may have the odd balloon from another supplier for time to time. I can also organise large orders if needed.

Totex 100 gram Red Weather Balloon Box

Andy’s Pico Flight Progress

Balloon Headed North

Andy’s Pico Flight progress has been as predicted. It is heading very much north from Melbourne in an unusual jet stream current. It is averaging about 8,000m (8Km – 5 miles) altitude and headed north at an average speed of 80kph (50mph). It recently passed over where Jason and I launch our balloons. It was a little west of Rankin Springs!

With a little luck, the current winds will take the balloon to sea near Cairns in far north Queensland (Australia). Below is the current track at time of publication:

Andy flight

Below is a snapshot of the jet stream that has allowed the flight to head north rather than the regular west to east path:

Jet Stream 2014-06-09

See the wind markers pointing straight up from Melbourne in the SE of Australia? Below is a more normal flow in 3 days time. The wind is headed west to east:

Jet Stream 2014-06-12

Andy has been very careful to watch the forecast and launch for the unusual jet stream wind direction.

Note that HAM radio tracking is listed in the preceding post. Tracking sites on the Internet are listed.

Track a Pico Balloon flight

Pico Flight prediction

Pico Flight prediction

Scheduled Pico Balloon Flight Monday 9th June 2014

My friend Andy will be sending a Balloon aloft from his home town of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia this Monday and it is headed initially north then east over the Pacific Ocean. I expect that it is headed to New Zealand and beyond.

Andy says:


FYI, PS-9 PICO balloon release is planned for Monday morning

10mW transmit power, 

THOR16 with RTTY on 434.500Mhz

APRS on 2m band.

APRS call sign: VK3YT-11

Tracking as PS on spacenear.us

Will be in #picospace IRC channel on freenode.net



Note that the flight needs to head North or it will end up too low by the time it reaches New Zealand! Andy is looking at Jet Stream predictions to ensure that it heads north before it begins its easterly track. The APRS frequencies are different in each country and Andy’s transmitter is able to change frequencies by using GPS co-ordinates to know where it is. I believe that this is also using a small solar panel to keep it active. South America, here he comes!

Also the spacenear.us website will probably only list his flight an hour or so before departure.

You can watch the APRS tracking at http://aprs.fi  and use the call sign VK2YT-11 Isn’t Amateur Radio (HAM radio) wonderful?

He made it to New Zealand twice now, so South America is next!

Pico Flight prediction

Pico Flight prediction