Placing a Cutdown on a Balloon (HAB)

Todd hamson directional antenna foxhuntingPlacing a Cutdown Below the Parachute

Most cutdowns are light and placed between the balloon and the parachute. This seems logical, but the biggest issue with this arrangement is the weight of the cutdown and the size of the parachute. The bigger the parachute, the more likely there will not be an issue.

In recent times I have had great issues with the balloon not exploding cleanly. Five balloons this year have had massive twisting issues and that alone can collapse a parachute as the cord between the payload and the parachute twists and causes issues as it tends to make the cord shorter as it twists up.

One balloon burst without shedding any material and with the 1.6kg balloon and the weight of the cutdown, there was nearly 2Kg of mass pulling the top of the parachute well to the side. The payload hit the ground at about 60kph (35mph). This damaged one of the trackers and almost left the payload without any way of locating it. Luckily a second tracker half survived and we were able to locate it even though it was not sending GPS co-ordinates.

The picture above shows the result:  That is my good friend Todd Hampson helping us track down the lost payload. It was transmitting, but with no GPS location. We resorted to directional location and a “beep every 20 seconds. We recovered the payload. 2 faulty trackers and we still found it. It pays to be prepared. Note, I question the element spacing on this antenna. It is made from PVC tubing and fittings and uses roll-up tape measure elements. You can fold it up into a slightly bigger PVC tube or a canvas tube. You need big attenuators like 60dB and 120dB to insert inline as you get closer to the transmitter. You also need a radio that has a metal case to shield direct signals from getting into the radio and bypassing the antenna.

One remedy is to use some small swivels. They are simple and can be found in fishing shops. This will help with twist on a rapid spin. You will be amazed at how fast a payload can spin when the parachute is fouled. The video below shows the fouled cute payload and its initial spin and the final impact with the ground

cutdown configurationAs I said, most payloads are placed above the parachute. My recommendation is below the chute. This increases the stable loading and decreases any unstable loading that can collapse the chute. The picture below shows how and independent cutdown should be placed. A longer line may be needed if the payload and the parachute are further apart and the payload needs connectivity to the link to the ground. I suggest a swivel and a short line to the parachute as well as a long thin multi-stranded line to the cutdown. After all any damage to the cutdown wire will be not an issue after the payload is on the way down.

There are many other ways to provide this service, but they are often less than ideal. This is the most stable way of providing the system. I suggest that the cutdown box or bubble wrap be taped to the nylon cord to prevent it from swinging around.

The small piece of Nichrome wire needs to be either twisted or threaded through the nylon. I prefer threading as it means the Nichrome wire is insulated and the heating is efficient. Other prefer w spiral around the thread. Either way, it is important that any swivel placed inline is below the cutdown box or above the cutdown Nichrome wire. Very important.

The reason is that any twist on the way up will cause issues and this is more likely if the swivel is between the cutdown Nichrome wire and the box with the electronics.

I would love to hearmore about your results. Let me know.

Cutdown for HAB

Adding a Cutdown to HABs

Cutdown for HABCutdown System – Over the Counter

*** Great news, we will be selling these soon for about $800 complete!

Not cheap, but they will do the job and allow expansion and a lot of  control for amazing things. They will be linked and tested to fly.

One of the hardest parts of a balloon flight in Australia and probably anywhere else is building an effective cut-down system that will work on command. Why Australia? Because of an issue with the regulations that requires CASA to classify what would be a light balloon under US regulations as a medium balloon here in Australia. The cutdown is then an essential part of the payload for a medium or heavy balloon in most countries.

The image at right shows an elegant solution to the cutdown issue with a reasonable power level on 900MHz.

RFD900 modem from RFDesignThis was selected by my son Jason Brand. In most countries there is a 900MHz band plan suitable for the RFDesign modem. The RFD-900 Modem is license free use in Australia, Canada, USA, NZ I expect in many other countries too, but check first. No HAM radio license required. Two units are required – one for the balloon and one for the ground unit. The systems are extremely light weight and are also extremely efficient battery-wise.

If built properly, it will work to at least 80Km and with a good Yagi, it should work to over 100Km. It uses the same technology that we are using in Project ThunderStruck for one of the Telemetry systems. ThunderStruck is our spacecraft undergoing concept testing. Here is the article below:

Direct link to the article: http://projectthunderstruck.org/technology-taking-shape-radio-links/

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ThunderStruck verticalFinalising ThunderStruck’s Radio Links

Aside from the airframe and servos, one of the hardest planning jobs is designing and building the various radio links.

It is pretty simple. Radio links are essential and not just nice. They will be mission critical to the success of the project, but we will have backups to complete the flight without crashing, etc. The links must be solid and with no breakup and must operate over long distances.

It is very important to realise the differences with the ground based systems and the aircraft systems. With the ground based systems we can have high power, large antennas, antenna tracking, mains/generator power and much more. on the aircraft we have both power and space issues. We also have temperature issues and the equipment must be tested in chambers that have had the air pumped out – I don’t like to use the term “vacuum”, but it is descriptive for most people.
How many links will we need?

At the moment we will need 4 radio links – 2 for the balloon and 2 for the aircraft.

The balloon telemetry system
The balloon camera system
The aircraft telemetry system
The aircraft camera system

We want to keep the video links separate from the telemetry as delays in the telemetry information can cause major issues. If you have ever had a large file download interrupt a Skype call? you will know exactly what I mean. Imagine flying a supersonic aircraft and having dropouts on the links to the flight system! We can’t have that so we separate the systems. We also need to separate the balloon and aircraft systems as we will need to maintain video from the balloon well after the aircraft has separated from the balloon. We will also need to command the balloon to terminate its flight after separation. The most critical link of the 4 is the aircraft telemetry system and we have chosen a 900MHz 1 watt system. It is pretty amazing and handles 56Kb per second both ways at a distance of 80Km with diversity. Diversity is super important. I have posted the specifications on and earlier post, but I will repost them below. It can link directly to our control system and also to a navigation system such as the Pixhawk that we have chosen. The simple set up can be seen in the following diagram. More on this and the other links in a later post.

Control System

Control-System

Note that in the above radio link system, the yagi antennas may have auto-tracking and will probably be vertical and horizontal diversity. We are toying with the idea of circular polarisation. More on patch antennas later.

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So Back to Balloons

There is no big changes here, Instead of patch antennas we will be using a straight whip with an earth plane. Simply it is a dangling UHF antenna with 4 earth radials at the base of the antenna. It maybe a 1/4 wave to ensure a better radiation pattern towards the ground, but the earth plane will give it gain.

The antenna on my car should be adequate for most of the time that we need a cutdown, but for long distances, we may need a good 900MHz yagi antenna. These can be bought online. So can all of the materials. The wiring is the same as the diagram above, but maybe you don’t need the diversity antennas. None the less they are there if needed.

There are other options from the output of the Pixhawk. It is possible to operate other cutdown systems, servos and even motors. The PixHawk is a navigation system that will allow for automation. ie it can operate the cutdown on a range limit or a height limit. It can do most things that the user can imagine. It can even steer a (steerable) parachute to land in an area that is desirable – away from trees, lakes, etc. With the addition of live video, we can easily manually steer the parachute.

From the RFDesign Website:

RFDesign is an electronics design and manufacturing company specialising in Embedded systems, Radios, Antennas and high frequency electronics. We are located in Brisbane, Australia with our office located in Acacia Ridge, QLD.
Features:

Long range >40km depending on antennas and GCS setup
2 x RP-SMA RF connectors, diversity switched.
1 Watt (+30dBm) transmit power.
Transmit low pass filter.
> 20dB Low noise amplifier.
RX SAW filter.
Passive front end band pass filter.
Open source firmware SiK (V1.x) / tools, field upgradeable, easy to configure.
Multipoint software capability with MP SiK (V2.x)
Small, light weight.
Compatible with 3DR / Hope-RF radio modules.
License free use in Australia, Canada, USA, NZ

Interfaces:

RF : 2 x RP-SMA connectors
Serial: Logic level TTL (+3.3v nominal, +5v tolerant)
Power: +5v, ~800mA max peak (at maximum transmit power)
GPIO: 6 General purpose IO (Digital, ADC, PWM capable).

Specifications:

Frequency Range: 902 – 928 MHz (USA) / 915 – 928 MHz (Australia)
Output Power: 1W (+30dBm), controllable in 1dB steps ( +/- 1dB @=20dBm typical )
Air Data transfer rates: 4, 8, 16, 19, 24, 32, 48, 64, 96, 128, 192 and 250 kbit/sec ( User selectable, 64k default )
UART data transfer rates: 2400, 4800, 9600, 19200, 38400, 57600, 115200 baud ( User selectable, 57600 default )
Output Power: 1W (+30dBm)
Receive Sensitivity: >121 dBm at low data rates, high data rates (TBA)
Size: 30 mm (wide) x 57 mm (long) x 12.8 mm (thick) – Including RF Shield, Heatsink and connector extremeties
Weight: 14.5g
Mounting: 3 x M2.5 screws, 3 x header pin solder points
Power Supply: +5 V nominal, (+3.5 V min, +5.5 V max), ~800 mA peak at maximum power
Temp. Range: -40 to +85 deg C

Software / GCS Support:

The software solution is an open source development called “SiK” originally by Mike Smith and improved upon by Andrew Tridgell and RFDesign. A boot loader and interface is available for further development and field upgrade of the modem firmware via the serial port. Most parameters are configurable via AT commands, Eg. baud rate (air/uart), frequency band, power levels, etc., please see the 3DR wiki for commands below for now. V2.x firmware has been updated to support multipoint networking on the RFD900. V1.x (non multipoint) is suitable for point to point links – the sourcecode is located at: https://github.com/RFDesign/SiK The user manual / datasheet can be found here : RFD900 Datasheet A software manual for SiK firmware is here : RFD900 Software manual RFD900 configuration tool: http://rfdesign.com.au/downloads/ RFD900 binary firmware repository: http://rfdesign.com.au/firmware/ 3DR/RFD900 compatible configuration tool : http://vps.oborne.me/3drradioconfig.zip Wiki for the 3DR radios (RFD900 has same commands): http://code.google.com/p/ardupilot-mega/wiki/3DRadio Integrated support for configuring the RFD900 radios is supported by APM Planner, with other GCS solutions in development. The default settings are at 57600 baud, N, 8, 1, and 64k air data rate. Software features include:

Frequency hopping spread spectrum (FHSS)
Transparent serial link
Point to Point, or Multipoint networking
Configuration by simple AT commands for local radio, RT commands for remote radio
User configurable serial data rates and air datarates
Error correction routines, Mavlink protocol framing (user selectable)
Mavlink radio status reporting (Local RSSI, Remote RSSI, Local Noise, Remote Noise)
Automatic antenna diversity switching on a packet basis in realtime
Automatic duty cycle throttling based on radio temperature to avoid overheating

website, http://rfdesign.com.au for more information.

Super Sale – 48 Hours only

IMG_7340Super Sale – Weather Balloons, HAB Flights and More – 48Hrs

Live in Australia?

Monday 17th November 4pm: We are, as always, raising funds for our Project ThunderStruck. Live in Australia and want weather balloons, want us to take your payload to the Stratosphere, or want to rent HAM radio tracking gear?

Sale Ends Wednesday 19th Nov 2015 at 4pm

Learn to Launch and Recover HABs

HABs? High Altitude Balloons. We can do just about anything. We can even take you along with us and show you how its done. It is the full course on flying payloads into the stratosphere. Just $500 per car and you drive your own vehicle – it must be in good condition and suitable for dirt roads.. We launch from west of West Wyalong in southern central part of NSW. The course is hands on and you will get to have a tracking radio in the car and be part of the recovery team. You cover all your own personal costs including road assistance coverage, etc.. You will also need a wireless enabled tablet – preferably Telstra connected and a mobile phone, again preferable with Telstra connectivity. Conditions apply. We may be flying this weekend. Maximum people in one car for the above price is three.

Balloons for Sale

We current have 30 x 100 gram balloons at $10 each + $15 delivery for 1 or 10. We have 2 x 500 gram balloons for $100 delivered in Australia by express post, a 350 gram balloon at $75 delivered in Australia express post and some older 3Kg balloons for $200 each – no guarantees. They are probably 3 years old, but that is all I know.

Helium

We can even rent you 3.4 cubic metre helium bottles (Size E) and balloon regulators. These need to picked up from and returned to Sydney and require substantial deposit of $700 per bottle fully refundable. At this stage it is cash only as we do not carry credit cards. It is also $2 per day per bottle after 1 week’s rental if overdue.

Radios, GPS, Cameras

The HAM radio equipment includes:

  • Yaesu GPS enabled APRS tracker VX-8 two way radio – VHF / UHF dual band
  • Byonics MT-400 APRS trackers – pre-configured with your call sign and SSD
  • GPS units for MT-400
  • Spot 2 and Spot 3 trackers
  • GoPro cameras with external connections for Lithium Iron batteries
  • Lithium Iron Batteries and charger
  • antennas

Send your Mascot or Sign to Near Space?

We can do it for $1,200, down for the sale from 1,500 and that was a special deal already – marked down from $3,000. Conditions apply.

Payment

Sale ends at 4pm Wednesday 19th November 2015 EDST

A 50% deposit must be made tomorrow (Monday) at a CBA branch OVER THE COUNTER to get this sale discount or goods with the balance on most items by Wednesday. This sale ends Monday at 4pm, but call me to negotiate a price after 4pm. For details on the rental of radio equipment and gas bottles- you can call me on 0467 545 755 or call 02 9789 2773 and leave a message if I am unavailable. You may have to ring for a while to go to the messaging service.

Want to see when we have the next sale. Subscribe to our RSS feed to get our posts and be ready.

http://wotzup.com/feed/

News from Team Stellar – Testing

Deep Space Maneuvering Rocket Testing shows Encouraging Results

As you know, Jason and I both hold positions in Team Stellar. I am very pleased to report on the successful first tests of “VECTOR”.

This is from the Team Stellar pages at: http://www.teamstellar.org

After several long years of R&D efforts in our Experimental Technologies division, our lead Mr. Uroš Kejžar finally ran the first test of his brainchild – liquid-fueled rocket prototype codenamed “VECTOR”. Tests were organized in collaboration with Jožef Stefan Institute in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Mr. Uroš Kejžar

The general idea is to produce a very small and affordable spacecraft, as large as a coin, with small thrusters which will be cheap to produce and to launch in to the outer space. Swarms of that kind of spacecraft will be able to explore wide sections of the outer space on a low-cost basis. That type of small spacecraft may enable the man to explore asteroids and other celestial bodies through the Solar System and beyond. Potentials for use of the VECTOR thrusters in space explorations are very promising, but the engine had to prove itself through tests. The prototype thruster weighs between two and three grams, but the goal is to produce a thruster under one gram.

This idea came to us as a part of our ‘Beyond the GLXP’ plan, as we are developing solutions that enable access to space. Future plans for our GLXP and beyond GLXP usage of VECTOR technology will be revealed as we see appropriate.

The tests of the VECTOR water engine prototype were conducted in a small sized vacuum chamber. The vacuum chamber used in these tests is a housing made of glass from which all air is removed by a vacuum pump. This procedure creates a low pressure environment within the chamber. The vacuum environment allows the researchers to test mechanical devices which must operate in outer space, because it creates similar conditions. Initial series of tests were all about configuring the testing equipment itself. With such tests, it is incredibly important to properly configure the measurement equipment.

Vacuum chamber

The results of the preliminary tests are promising, because the device worked well in the vacuum conditions, but further tests are necessary to measure the power of the propulsion. Mr. Kejžar will continue with tests this week, and we will have more precise results very soon.

Our expectations of these small thrusters are disproportionately big. Expect further updates as we leave the experimental stage and approach the launch stage.

TV, You Never Know When

Croatian NewspaperTV, it Happens All the Time

by Robert Brand

As crazy as it sounds for a 12 year old, Jason appears on TV, Radio, Online and Newspapers all the time. He is also seen in other people’s presentations at space and education lectures all the time.

We were flying to Frankfurt earlier this year and I spotted a newspaper being read a few seats further up and saw a balloon story and few familiar faces in the pictures, including Jason’s picture. Yes, it was another story about our balloon flights to the Stratosphere in Croatia. It seems that Jason is getting noticed all over the world, but is not so well-known here in Australia. In fact Jason has been on TV more in Europe than Australia.

I expect that the success of Project ThunderStruck will change that. I asked if I could snap a picture of the newspaper article and that is it top right on this page and a bigger version at the bottom of the page. Both Jason and I are in the photos.

These are all pre-ThunderStruck days, but it might help with the credibility of Project ThunderStruck to know that Jason indeed has the skill set to make this a reality and he has demonstrated a commitment to the work and the science.

I just did a search of videos and discovered more stories about the Croatian balloon flights and more video of Jason and I. the video below is from a Croatian TV show called Briljanteen and shows the background to the flights, the preparation and one of the experiments conducted on the flights. I believe Australia gets a mention in the video, but since I do not speak Croatian, I do not know what they are saying!

I also found a video made from photos taken during our visit to the Croatian President. He wanted to meet the Australians that flew the University payloads to the stratosphere. It was also an opportunity to brief the president on the work of team Stellar. We even brought a model of a lunar rover.

Below is a picture of Jason meeting Croatian President Ivo Josipović

Jason Brand Meeting the President of Croatia - President Ivo Josipović

Jason Brand Meeting the President of Croatia – President Ivo Josipović

Below is the enlarged picture of the newspaper article that I spotted:
Croatian Newspaper

 

Apollo 11 Interview in Full

Robert Brand at a recent London Space Conference

Robert Brand at a recent London Space Conference

Apollo 11 Interview – Spaceflight Magazine

by Robert Brand

As you all know, I am heavily involved in the space sector and you may have already read that I was Interviewed in Spaceflight magazine. First, let met say again that I did NOT put the title on the page “Saving Apollo 11” Nor did I say anything so over the top. It seems the editor thought that a nice touch. It was in UK Spaceflight magazine and headlines sell magazines.

You can read the entire Apollo 11 story on-line on the link below.

My words are very tame in the interview in that regard. My friend Nick Howes from the UK also thinks I am being humble when I tell him I didn’t do much other than standard wiring. It was in the NASA Apollo 11 Sydney switching centre for the mission – switching the Honeysuckle Creek feed and the Parkes feed. As I said. editors want to sell magazines. They embellish the facts where there is an opening.

This piece was the lead story of 3 more Apollo stories – the next 3 issues will each have an interview by Nick Howes. Two of them are with astronauts Rusty Schweickart and Jack R. Lousma and the last one is with Sy Liebergot, the Comms guy for mission control during the Apollo 13 crisis. I am pleased that they thought my story was interesting enough to include it in the Apollo series. Other than the title, the interview is very accurate from my perspective.

Spaceflight-Cover-2014-12(Widget)Read the Full Story by clicking below.

http://www.bis-space.com/2014/11/06/13775/saving-apollo-11

 

Lessons from UpLift-20

Weather balloon burst

What a burst weather balloon should do! Disintegrate

UpLift-20 Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Jason, our 12 year old pilot for Project ThunderStruck is no stranger to having to prepare for the worst and it is what we do every time we send up a payload on a high altitude balloon. Our last flight of a balloon into the stratosphere was a case of just that. Two failures. One on launch and the second on decent. Each problem would be enough to cause most balloon payloads to be lost, but as part of our preparations, we carried two trackers for the one flight. This was a flight in preparation for our project and we are testing. We have had to cover our payload in the video. Our apologies.

Below: An artist’s view of the ThunderStruck aircraft under a zero pressure balloon (more on that another time) at 40km altitude. You may have guessed, I am the artist….. Note that on the ThunderStruck event, we will not be using weather balloons so there will be no unexpected explosions.

Balloon Flight with ThunderStruck

Failure One

The first failure was totally invisible to us. A massive downdraft. The first that we have ever encountered. Uplift-1, our first flight, started in an updraft and it rose at an incredible rate for the first kilometre. In the video below, you can hear me make the comment that there did not appear to be the lift that we knew we had because we had used scales to measure the lift. We could not feel the downdraft pushing the balloon down 15 metres above our heads. I mistakenly thought my lack of “feel” was because of the others also holding the payload. We released the payload and balloon and then our hopes sank as the payload only lifted slowly and then sank back to the ground. We ran to catch it, but it rose again and caught on the edge of the eve of the roof of a nearby wheat silo. It stayed there for only 2 minutes, but it felt like an eternity before it released. It rose quickly as calculated, but one tracker had had its GPS unit disconnected and the other had its antenna twisted 90 degrees effectively lowering the power considerably. None the less we could still track the flight – mostly.

One tracker disabled, but still sending its ID at full power, The other effectively made to look low power. Those GoPro cameras are great. hundred of metres above the ground you can hear (faintly) people talking and a dog barking! They make great gear.

Failure Two

The weather balloons are meant to explode and disintegrate. This one did not. The entire balloon, well over 1Kg fell into the parachute and tangled itself in the chute, effectively making the mass look like more like a tangled flag than a parachute. It slowed the payload in the thick air, but the fall from its maximum height was rapid and the entire fall from 30km only took 15 minutes. This was an average speed of 120kph. Given that the payload probably hit the ground at 30 to 40kph, the initial speed was probably close to 400kph in the thin upper air.

With the tracker only giving us effectively a poor signal, the last track that we received in one of the vehicles headed to the landing site was 2 km above the ground making the landing site potentially one square kilometre.  We also fond out later that the second tracker was never going to give us a signal, because the impact had caused a battery to eject from its holder. We only had one ID every 20 seconds and no GPS location! We used a directional antenna to lead us to the payload, but it was a slow and painful task.

The video below shows the impact and the wooden spars breaking. The camera continued to record! Nothing like a good wiring system to ensure that power kept flowing from the external battery. I did not mention that we use external batteries. The GoPro’s batteries, even with the additional power pack, just do not last for the entire flight if it goes over 2.5 hours and especially if it is taking both videos and stills – The new GoPros are amazing, but need more power for High Altitude Balloon (HAB) flights.

Initially the video above shows the incredible stability of our payload at 30km altitude. The Balloon explodes at the 30 second mark and then plummets and spins at a sickening rate of a  couple of times a second with the disabled chute causing the spin.  At 1 minute 45 seconds, we cut to an altitude of about 3km and it took 3 minutes to hit the ground at 60kph. At the 4:45 mark, the payload hits and spars shatter. The camera keeps recording. By the way, the big tree lined road is the Mid Western Highway. The payload was kind enough to land in a sheep paddock beside the main road. You can’t ask for better.

The Lesson

The lesson here is that if it can go wrong, it will go wrong. Yes, we have recovered every payload that we have sent up, but good preparations both in the payload design and build is important as are the preparations for recovery on the ground. We even carry poles to remove the payload from trees. We can manage 14 metre trees. After that we will have to look at other methods.

Our preparations will be backup, backup and more backup. Redundancy rules over weight considerations where possible. Systems will be over-engineered and more care will be taken than what appears necessary. Project ThunderStruck will fly while the world watches. Delays will be unacceptable. This was UpLift-20 and again we have 100% successful recovery rate. @0 flown and 20 recovered. As our flights become more aligned to the actual shape of the ThunderStruck aircraft, speeds will dramatically increase on decent and the videos will have way more interesting stuff to show, but these lessons were there to remind us not to get complacent.

Building a Workshop for ThunderStruck

Building the ThunderStruck Workshop3A Space Grade Workshop

Every boy and every man needs their man cave. Jason’s and my man cave has a  digital TV, radio and a small fridge.  That is where the frivolous part of our work gear ends. The rest is state of the art technology for building a spacecraft. As you know Jason has a big event in April next year – yes we are again trying for April 2015. He will be trying to break the sound barrier with a 2.5m long delta winged glider launched from over 41Km altitude. The trick is to be able to control it and to land it. There are three or four phases to his project, but none the less, the ultimate aim is a working spacecraft and you can’t just build those in your back shed…. or can you? There are three stages to the concept testing:

  • Transonic – Jason’s upcoming flight
  • Sounding rocket return from space – straight up and down
  • Re-entry from orbit

I am betting that with the right equipment I could build all three stages in my garage. I doubt that it will come to that and I expect stage three to be built in a well equipped laboratory and workshop. None the less stage 2 will go into space and I will probably do a lot of the early work right here, so our workshop has to be state of the art and we are starting out with a strip of test points right next to our workbench. There is way more to come – digital simulation panel, est equipment and bigger bench to name just a couple, but right now the wood chips are flying and so we need to play with the less sensitive gear.

So what is in our test strip? These are the test points and systems for building and testing the electronics and radio systems of ThunderStruck. On the other side of the garage, we will be building the airframe and will have a bench with a frame to rotate the fuselage so that we can access every part of the craft. It will be nearly 3 metres long. The systems shown here are for mains; DC power, network; audio; antennas, signal generation, receivers, transmitters; amplifiers; earth; USB and much more. Out of site on the left will be a servo test panel for the digital systems for the ThunderStruck craft. In the picture above Jason has that satisfied smile of  finishing the test panel – a few wires to go, but the majority is in an working.

It is also where Jason keeps his HF radio, so the workbench doubles for Amateur Radio activities. We will soon have an iGate for and VHF APRS gateway and a great place to as we dominate a hilltop in the heart of Sydney. Fellow Amateur Radio operators will know what I am talking about. That is Jason below with his radio. Behind Jason is our 50 volt and 12 volt supply rack and battery banks as well as many of our radio systems. There are two racks and to the right of them is a cupboard with about 32 draws for our smaller items.

Building the ThunderStruck Workshop

Below you can see the upper part of the test gear rack has a long way to go. Top left is our general computer – mainly for Internet access, top centre is our laboratory power supply. The bench is currently half width. As we toss out some old rubbish, we will be able to rid the area of equipment and double the width of the workbench

Building the ThunderStruck Workshop2

The moment we completed the work today, Jason built a Styrofoam aircraft out of scrap and he intends it to fly. None the less, the workshop is shaping up to be a phenomenal asset for building spacecraft. …..and what do two guys do with a spacecraft ready workshop? An easy guess – Build ThunderStruck of course!

Apollo 11 Interview in Spaceflight Magazine

Spaceflight-Cover-2014-12(Widget)From Apollo 11 to ThunderStruck

by Robert Brand

It seems that an interview on my life in the space sector has been published. My good friend Nick Howes from the UK did the interview. It concentrates on my Apollo 11 work at the age of 17. No big deal, but it was pivotal in my life I guess and set the scene for what followed and ultimately the ThunderStruck spacecraft

Spaceflight Vol 56 No 12 – December 2014

The teaser for the interview says:

Nick Howes tells the intriguing story of a boy gripped by space and who went on to play an important part in the Apollo 11 story.

I’m afraid that you will have to buy the magazine to see the story of my contribution to Apollo 11, the entire NASA progam from Apollo 11 to the Shuttle and Voyager encounters and even a major ESA contribution for the Halleys Comet interceptor, Giotto.

A little exchange from Facebook.

  • Robert Brand Seems that this is me:
    Nick Howes tells the intriguing story of a boy gripped by space and who went on to play an important part in the Apollo 11 story.
  • Nick Howes Proud to call you a friend, proud to know you… as you should be proud of all you have done… thanks buddy!
  • Robert Brand … and now building his own spacecraft easily capable of circumnavigating the moon and returning to land on earth. A funny and unexpected ending, given that 3 years ago I had no intention of doing anything like this!
  • Nick Howes As I said “pivotal” in so many ways…
  1. admin says:

    Nick also said:

    “The first of my 4 Spacefest Apollo articles is now out. An interview with Robert Brand who had a pivotal and largely untold role in the Apollo story from Australia. Over the next 4 months, my articles with Rusty Schweickart Jack Jack R. Lousma and Sy Liebergot will also come out, pure golddust was the exact phrase of the magazine editor… as they have all been very wonderful with their take and tales on work they did both on Apollo and since”.

    So get your copy of Spaceflight and read all of Nick’s stories over the next 4 issues – I am just thankful that I did not have to follow any of these powerhouses from the Apollo days. They were at the pointy end of the stick. The only think that I can take comfort in is that of the four of us interviewed, I am the only one building a space craft.

    Just below this story on this page there should be a couple of links to “similar stories” about NASA’s Apollo 11 switching centre in Sydney. My fellow co-workers and I had a lot to do with getting that working and you can catch up a bit of the story there. By he way I met with them for a reunion lunch just a few days ago. It was sweet to see them – mind you most were rather scary when I was doing work experience at the age of 17 when I worked on NASA’s Apollo 11 gear.