Spaceport Darwin Low Risk Business Model

Point Stephens NT General AreaA Staged Business Model

by Robert Brand. To be clear, I will not go into the long term business details, profit and loss figures in a public forum and I will not be exposing any business plans other than a general outline, but the nature of why it is a low risk for the Northern Territory government and my company will be clear. There is almost nothing needed other than to reserve this land until developers wish to fund the development of private launch pads.

I proposed a site for Spaceport Darwin in yesterday’s post and by today there were several people that liked the site, but needed a business model to fully accept that this could happen. I understand that desire to see everything so this morning I am posting the basis of the business model. I was going to wait a week to be able to report more, but to get some credibility, here it is.

Spaceport Darwin will be a staged approach that would see investment grow over time and facilities established as needed. The failure of the past is that massive investment was needed on day one. Another factor is that we can establish credibility over time for the site and with those wanting i invest in launch facilities. With almost zero cost, agreements can be put in place for the first part of the operation and sounding rocket launches can take place before the main area sees a shovel of dirt moved.

Why does our Business Need a Spaceport?

Simply because in two years we expect to test fire our booster / sounding rocket to space. I have worked with CASA and with other groups that would have plenty of objections to where I can launch from. There are also few places to launch to orbit. Insurance companies prefer a water launch and costs are lower if you can lower the risk. Since our long term goals are orbital space, it makes sense to look to a long term site to save money. My company also has an interest in being involved in the running of a spaceport. My background is founded in the civil aviation sector and my education was focused on Civil Aviation electronics and systems. I have also a flying background and interact with CASA on balloon flights to the stratosphere. In our company (being set-up now) I am currently heading a group to build spacecraft and rocket technology. All small points, but with the right people, it makes me ideal to kick start such a business. We also need an area away from major air traffic to launch heavy payloads to the Stratosphere. As a Spaceport is not in constant use, this makes Spaceport Darwin ideal as a launch point for 2-3 ton payloads for stratospheric space observation. With a 2 year start date on a couple of these items, now is the time for me to secure a site for a Spaceport and negotiate an outcome.

Potential Spaceport Services

Apart from fuel storage, gas storage, water, power, staff and other background essentials, I am talking about the end product/ services. The first three below my company requires in two years:

  • Sounding rocket – non orbital – straight up and down
  • Sounding rocket – launched to the east. Payload landing 190km away
  • 2-3 ton payloads sent by balloon to the stratosphere.
  • light to heavy rocket launch facilities – increasing over time
  • 5km runway for landing winged space vehicles
  • Up to 4 launch pads – as demand requires. We are seeing the establishment of private pads in the US at the Kennedy Space Centre
  • Equatorial launches – near polar launches
  • Launches for space tourism
  • Other operations as required

Why be in this business? The current worth of the Space Sector is US$330,000,000,000 per year and Australia is only earning money from the radio astronomy and the space communications service. It is a small player, well positioned to player a bigger role servicing launches, but to be competitive, we must keep our operational costs low and that means being close to a major town. With these requirements met and adequate competition for supply of services to the facility, Spaceport Darwin could well see a significant business in the future. We will eventually have a Space Agency and they will be promoting such objectives. Even securing 1/3 of one percent of the space business would see about US$1B income annually with much of that injected back into the local economy through wages, spending and government fees. It is clear that we can secure much more than this if all services are met.

What is the Proposal underpinning the Business Model?

Stage 1

Legal: The Northern Territory (NT) government would need to place a 15 to 20 year hold on any other development in the proposed area while services are put in place and expanded over time. Stage one also requires the clearing of a future car park to be used as a temporary launch pad. Once stage 2 is  implemented, all launches can be moved to their permanentlocation

Technical: A clearing of the Car Park area and a concrete area for launches and testing. The concrete area will be suitable for small launches and balloon launches. The access road, although gravel, should be suitable for large trucks in the dry season. A bunker house with no equipment would be built on the west side of the future Car Park to facilitate a safe house during launches. Not equipment will be left between launches and the building secured and patrolled. Balloon and rocket flights to space will occur from time to time. PlusAerospace (expected name of the company) will manage the site from a launch perspective. That will be source of most of the income

The Car Park clearing will be paid for by grants and other funding. PlusAerospace will look after the mobile plant and other setup as required for launches and will bring shipping containers ready to deploy for the electronics and fuel mixing. The ingredients are of a safe nature until combined and are safe without an ignition source. Only large balloons, sounding rockets and small orbital rockets could be launched from a temporary site.

Point Stephens NT_2Stage 2

Legal: This would only proceed with finance, partnerships and most importantly with customers. A solid commitment from the Northern Territory (NT) government and other legal entities would be needed at that time for long term tenancy and a permanent arrangement for continued services put in place with PlusAerospace as the customer. The government would be responsible for build a sealed road suitable for heavy loads and a 400m bridge suitable for the same heavy loads.

Technical: It would require a large pad for launches and completion of a security perimeter (and fence) that would be easy to patrol and cleared areas for a large concrete launch pad and launch structure. Like the US Kennedy Space Center (KSC) it would need a bunker-like launch control centre 5km away from the launch site with adequate protection. This would need sealed roads from Darwin to support the area. Gas and fuel facilities would be needed and it should be noted that much of the specialist gases used are plentiful in Darwin as they arrive by boat for distribution around Australia.  It is likely that facilities would grow for a crawler and fabrication centre and although these items may be a long way away, such assets and pathways will be included in plans for the site ensuring adequate land is available for the service and safety.

Other Business Model Information

It is too early at this stage and some discussions are private in nature, but this staged approach to a business model will also allow a real growth and need dependent expansion that is very low risk. Government partnerships will ensure that risk is kept low and it is expected that a permanent arrangement will be in place with CASA that has to regularly pass review, but will allow launches without jumping through massive hoops each launch. ie, some permanent restrictions at all times. It should be noted that the proposed runway would be built in a location that would be suitable for operation near the Darwin. The current suggested location may be too close to the airport and will need to be located further away. The launch of the tourist flight (rocket motors) could be positioned in the appropriate airspace for the rocket flights.


I would seriously love your comments on this approach and will respond as needed. I will begin some serious lobbying for this site unless a better one exists, so please place your thinking caps on and let me know your thoughts.


This following link is a bit old, but will fill you in on some useful background. Cape York and Weipa Spaceports never progressed and people felt bunt by the experience.

The following link is also very old and the Christmas Island spaceport also never progressed:

Darwin Area and Spaceport Darwin

Point Stephens NT_2

Point Stephens NT General Area

Spaceport Darwin Proposal

Point Stephens NT General AreaSpaceport Darwin – 55Km Drive from Town.

by Robert Brand. It is clear that Australia needs a Space Agency and the Agency needs to help establish an Australian Spaceport. Given that it is only a matter of time I am very interested in Spaceport Darwin!

What is a Spaceport?

The Oxford dictionary simple states: a base from which spacecraft are launched.

These days, with spacecraft returning to earth for reuse and also for winged spacecraft, the definition must also include landing so a modern definition would be:  a base from which spacecraft are launched and landed.

Port Stephens in the Northern Territory of Australia, would seem to make an ideal spaceport. I believe that the land is mainly Crown Land on a perpetual lease to the Northern Territory Land Corporation. There are no buildings on the point and the land appears to be available for development. A gravel road is the only way of getting close to the site and it may currently be unpassable during the wet season.  The wet season tends to cause major access problems without high dry road access. Luckily the road traverses only high land, but the rain can make this road impossible to travel. If development starts, the road would need to be sealed from Darwin and also new roadways within the complex.

For those wanting to take a better look, it is on Google Earth and it is the land to the south east of Gunn Point NT Australia:

-12.180 Latitude and 131.160 longitude.

The land is 19km north to south and up to 11km east to west at the furthermost points.

Possible Australian Launch pointsWhy Spaceport Darwin?

In the picture to the right, I have outlined (in red) some areas suitable to launch. It would be ideally suited to an equatorial orbit and possibly a polar orbit. It should also be suited to a sounding rocket launch with a forward landing spot. There are few places that a space port should and can be built. There have been several false starts with Great Barrier Reef concerns and major land rights groups forming a huge lobby in Cape York. Inland sites tend to have severe restrictions on large launches because of the risks of launching over land and an population.

Australia does have Woomera, but it is inland and has massive issues for launching anything other than sounding rockets (straight up and down). Launching over water offers a way lower risk and the cost of insurance. Woomera’s costs are very high at the moment. Commercial launch sites are more competitive. The nearest large town is a day’s travel.

Any launch site needs to be capable of growing with the needs of the site and I expect that this proposed site should be able to grow to 4 launch pads for the future. Obviously it will start small, and grow with the need for local space services.

What Makes a Good Spaceport?

What are the important requirements of a Spaceport. This is not a spaceport for space tourism, but it could easily be included. We are looking at a serious launch facility in this proposal. The possibility exists to launch multistage rockets from this site. So as a launch facility, what essentials or important items do we need?:

  • In a country with financial stability.
  • In a country with political stability.
  • In a country with geological stability.
  • In a country with a well educated workforce.
  • Clear path to the east (equatorial orbit).
  • Clear Path to the north or South (polar orbit).
  • A safe distance from any public building or public road (8Km from launch pad).
  • Fresh Water. Lots of it.
  • Short distance to a major town.
  • Road, train, air and port facilities near by.
  • Ability to isolate the area for launches.
  • Construction work force.
  • Operational work force.
  • In town fabrication.
  • Land ahead capability for sounding rocket flights.
  • Close to the equator for equatorial flights.
  • Expansion for future launch pads
  • Private launch facilities / launch pads
  • 5km or longer runway a possibility.
  • Substantial power services.
  • Calm water in the launch area
  • A substantial distance from any airport
  • A substantial distance from town for safety reasons.

There are way more requirements or “should haves” like fuel handling facilities, but the ones above are a great start. Let’s see how Spaceport Darwin shapes up.

Essentially we have a green light on all of the above points. The only issue is the need for road works once the site becomes operational.

There are issues with the northerly launch, with a tight flight path between some islands. There is land only to the south.

Another benefit is the local waters to the east are only about 10m to 15m deep. This is well within normal scuba diving capability (usually 27m depth max for sports diving). Recovery of rocket components that may parachute to the water can easily be recovered.

A large observation area for the general public can be placed on the southern end of the complex Launch days attract many people that want to get close to the launch of a major space vehicle – even a small launch. It is essential to keep people 5Km from any launch. The launch pad should be 8Km away from public property. All of this is a green light for Spaceport Darwin.

There is a small national park to the east only a 10km kilometres away. It is small and only 8km wide. Human access is only by boat. Another small piece of land is crossed by any spacecraft launched to orbit and it is 170Km to the east. Most rockets will be in space or near to space by that time and the land is sparsely populated. This is perfect for a sounding rocket flight with a winged glider returning from space. There is even a sealed runway at Oenpelli Airport. This is 200Km distance from the launch site at 95 degree bearing and within gliding distance for a landing. The rocket would land in Van Diemen Gulf.

Electric power is not far away and fresh water is readily available from underground sources and large tanks can be filled over time before any launch. Water recovery following a launch is also possible.

There is plenty more to look at and assess, but Spaceport Darwin has a lot of positives and with operations cost being 60% or more for a launch, having local staff living in Darwin with a short drive each day is very attractive. Below is the Van Diemens Gulf map. Note most flights are likely to be in space or close to space as they pass over the land to the east. The population density is extremely low.

Space Port Darwin - Van Diemen Gulf NT

Spaceport Darwin Benefits

Spaceport Darwin will:

  • Attract high tech staff to the area
  • Increase local tourism
  • Improve unemployment figures
  • Create innovation in the region
  • Attract foreign companies and investment
  • Improve roads and services
  • Focus attention on the region as a global Space Hub
  • Have a 5km runway in the region for emergencies once fully operational.
  • Be a space tourism launch and landing site.

This discussion will continue over time. Please leave your comments about this site.

 – and yes, there are crocodiles!

Greetings Fellow Rocketeers

Did I say that we were Building a RocketDream Chaser spacecraft Graphic on top of a Rocket for Launch?

by Robert Brand. No we haven’t, but here is the buzz – we are developing significant rocket technology.

It was ThunderStruck team member David Galea that headed his email with “Greetings Fellow Rocketeers” and it may stick because ThunderStruck is building rocket technology. We may be building more rockets later but right now we are specifically building a booster for a bigger rocket. A booster that could make it to space all by itself with a ThunderStruck suborbital winged craft as the payload (mounted right on top of the thruster). The rocket will be configured as a sounding rocket – not orbital. The picture (above right) is a similar craft, but a way bigger craft, on top of a bigger rocket. Non the less it will look similar.

This will take years to build and it may result in a static test fire in the Australian desert in the next year or two depending on financing. None the less, it will be an amazing opportunity for a small company to gain considerable traction in the rocket building field.

The info here is a basic format that hopefully high school students can understand

Rocket design commencesRockets and Maths

Mathematics is essential in building space equipment, space craft and navigating in space to mention a tiny bit. Without maths, rockets would explode from over-pressure or fail to get to space because we over-engineered it and it was too heavy to be a work horse.

The image at right is a basic configuration. Solid fuel with an air core and a thrust and nozzle at the bottom. Looks simple, but the maths have to be done first to get an estimation of the pressure we can expect and the strength of the tank and the weight of the tank with different metals. note that as the fuel burns down from the inside towards the metal of the tank, the area burning is greater and the pressure thus increases in a big way. You can change the fuel configuration to burn slower or have less thrust, but that could change simplicity of equation below so we will assume that the fuel is the same for the entire burn. That has been done and we came up with two limits on the mass that we can now work with. The optimum design will be in the middle somewhere.

After putting a rough design on the table with a mass of 2,000Kg fully fueled, we managed to get to space with a big payload and a coasting altitude of 150Km or more. This was with a speed of 1.5Km (or more) per second at the 30 second burn when the fuel is exhausted.

A second design with 3,000Kg mass fully fueled only managed a bit less than 25km altitude. The optimum booster, configured as a sounding rocket lies somewhere in between. The next part of the work is to consider the options. That is:

  • Do we use more thrust and increase the tank and nozzle pressure?
  • We we increase the fuel load and mass?
  • Do we reduce the fuel load and mass?
  • Do we change the fuel and increase the pressure and  even the burn time?
  • Do we reduce the mass of the payload (250Kg in this initial desktop design?
  • Do we reduce the mass of the rocket?

These are just a few of the options, but how do we calculate these things – Mathematics of course.

Below are the maths for the heavier second design that only got to under 25Km configures as a rocket. It would have made a poor booster.

NOTE: this is a simple bit of maths for model rockets, but it applies to the bigger ones too. It is not the whole deal, but will give a good estimate for the first pass.

David Galea’s maths for the second configuration performance:

ThunderStruck Rocket Flight Profile – Estimated Calculations

There are three basic equations to find the peak altitude for the rocket

  • Max velocity v, the velocity at burnout = q*[1-exp(-x*t)] / [1+exp(-x*t)] = 916
  • Altitude reached at the end of boost = [-M / (2*k)]*ln([T – M*g – k*v^2] / [T – M*g]) = 13,191.684 m
  • Additional height achieved during coast = [+M / (2*k)]*ln([M*g + k*v^2] / [M*g]) = 11,515.9877 m

Total Height Achieved = 24,707.67 Km

All the terms in these equations are explained below on the method for using the equations.

  1. Compute Some Useful Terms
    • Find the mass M of your rocket in kilograms (kg):  2950kg
    • Find the area A of your rocket cross-section in square meters (m^2):  0.342m^2
    • Note that the wind resistance force = 0.5 * rho*Cd*A * v^2, where
      rho is density of air = 1.2 kg/m^3
      Cd is the drag coefficient of your rocket which is around 0.75 for a model rocket shape.
      v is the velocity of the rocket. You don’t calculate this drag force, though, since you don’t know what “v” is yet. What you do need is to lump the wind resistance factors into one coefficient k:
      k = 0.5*rho*Cd*A = 0.5*1.2*0.75*A = 0.1539
    • Find the impulse I and thrust T of the engine for your rocket. I= 3907501 Ns , T= 118841.27 Ns
    • Compute the burn time t for the engine by dividing impulse I by thrust T:
      t = I / T = 3907501 / 118841.27 = 32.88 seconds
    • Note also – the gravitational force is equal to M*g, or the mass of the rocket times the acceleration of gravity (g). The value of g is a constant, equal to 9.8 meters/sec/sec. This force is the same as the weight of the rocket in newtons.
  2. Compute a couple of terms, I call them “q” and “x”
    • q = sqrt([T – M*g] / k) = sqrt([118841.27  – 2950 * 9.8] / 0.1539) = 764.427
    • x = 2*k*q / M = 2 * 0.1539 * 764.427 / 2950 = 0.079759536
  3. Calculate velocity at burnout (max velocity, v), boost phase distance yb, and coast phase distance yc (you will sum these last two for total altitude).
    • v = 764.427*[1-exp(-0.079759536*32.88)] / [1+exp(-0.079759536*32.88)] = 660.916
    • yb = [-2950  / (2*0.1539)]*ln([118841.27  – 2950 *9.8 – 0.1539*660.916^2] / [118841.27  – 2950 *9.8]) = 13191.684
    • yc = [+2950  / (2*0.1539)]*ln([2950 *9.8 + 0.1539*660.916^2] / [2950 *9.8]) = 11515.9877

Rocket SoftwareDavid says: I have double checked my calculations with wolfram alpha ( with the same results.

Well fellow Rocketeers, we will continue to let you know about our big adventure with things that could “go BANG” as we develop our technology.

The Screen shot at right is a basic program that you can get for free or you can buy a more professional  version for model rocket hobbyists. None the less it is fine for early desktop modeling.

We will keep you in touch with the professional software that we will eventually choose and use for the serious design phase.

All you students, please get your head down and study maths. We will need to have capable people working in the space sector as Project ThunderStruck becomes an Australian Space staple.

Bundaberg HAMing it Up

BARC Team with their High Altitude Balloon ProjectcHAM Radio Takes to the Skies

By Robert Brand VK2URB. I have been helping a Queensland (Australia) Amateur radio group to launch a balloon payload to the stratosphere- AND to be successful in recovering the payload.

The club is the Bundaberg Amateur Radio Club (BARC) in Queensland, Australia and they wanted to get a balloon into the Stratosphere and recover the payload. It was called the High Altitude Balloon Experiment? *HABE” and they really wanted to do it all. we sold them a balloon and guided them through the difficult procedure of a risk assessment with the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). The club members taking part were lacking the knowledge of how to mitigate (lower) the risk of the various areas of flight. I provided my risk analysis for my area approval and made suggestions of what needed changing. They paid their $600 for CASA to assess their launch proposal and finally got it through. They also followed my advice that they request an exemption from having to pay since they were a community group and there was a strong educational activity taking place with this flight. I am pleased to say that they got their $600 back.

We have a neat fill system developed by WotzUp and HABworx that uses some extremely light weight agricultural threaded pipe, a threaded collar – joiner and a threaded cap. It makes filling a dream and almost a one person job. The payload is connected in advance of the fill and there is almost nothing to go wrong.

Another aspect of the flight was that we had to make sure they went far enough inland to make recovery a simple procedure. They originally were looking close to Bundaberg, but they kept looking further west for the release as I kept explaining the potential loss of the payload was greater with hills, forests and lack of roads. They eventually settle o the town of Roma.

They made a triangular pyramid for the payload. It used 9mm x 9mm oak lengths with cable ties to hold it together. There inserted through 4mm drilled holes drilled at the ends of the rods. The cameras and trackers, etc were distributed over the frame and balanced.

Being a HAM radio club, they used a HAM radio APRS tracker and a SPOT3 tracker. The Spot3 tracker is not too good for HAB work as it does not give altitude and it does not provide coverage above 60,000 feet. It also is expensive to get rapid updates. The APRS tracker gives it all every 20 seconds, where you pay a lot for 2 or 5 minute updates on the SPOT tracker. The HAM tracker was also free.

The HAM club HABE group actually camped the night at the release site ready for the big day. They had help from a local HAM operator from Roma who gave them a good location to camp and release the balloon. The flight occurred on the 2nd and 3rd of July 2016.

So how did the HAM club do following my guidelines? Judge for yourself.

HAM club BARC’s unofficial Response

“Hi Rob..Mate, I just wanted to let you know the launch of the HABE was a complete success!

We went to Roma in Central QLD last weekend and launched the Balloon on Sunday Morning 3rd July at around 8:30AM – we had clear blue skies and not a whisper of wind as the balloon went straight up!!

All the electronics on-board worked well. We were able to track the Balloon with (HAM radio) APRS and also the Spot Tracker. We had the X-Band radio (70cms/2Mtr) working and about 30mins into the flight, we started to make contact with amateur radio operators from all over QLD. We worked stations from the Gold Coast and also into Bundaberg. (a total of 22 stations)

The balloon went up to 33,000Mtrs and we got some great video footage of the entire flight.”

A hundred things could have gone wrong, but everything we learned in the planning for the mission came together on the day.. We had a pretty good idea of where the payload had landed and went to the nearest road. After about 2 hours of bush walking we found the payload.

I wanted to THANK YOU – thank you for all your help with the HABE mission – and helping us work through the CASA red tape to get approval.. and also your advice on the payload design – It was an amazing experience.

Kind regards,
David VK4HAX
Bundaberg Amateur Radio Club.


I love it when a plan comes together and a lot of hours on the phone and in front of the PC. Well done everyone!

Interested in the Bundaberg Amateur Radio Club? go to their website by clicking on the link below:

Want the full story?:

A few early screen grabs from the HABE video they made.

HABE HAM flight near Maximum altitude.

HABE HAM flight landscape

HABE HAM flight mid flight

P.S. you know that Jason and I love to toast our success with ginger beer – it is a non alcoholic soft drink / sode – and Bundaberg makes the best ginger beer anywhere! It has bite! Here’s to the Bundaberg Amateur Radio club and their success – from Jason and Robert; from WotzUp and HABworx and our readers.

UpLift-28 Robert and Jason Brand toasting success.
The above image is Robert Brand (left) and Jason Brand (right) and was borrowed from their UpLift-28 flight photos. Three cheers for the Bundaberg HAM radio Club and three cheers for the team that made the flight a reality.

The Sound of Flight

UpLift-28 ReleaseUpLift-28, Please Sound Off.

by Robert Brand. It is not something that we think about too often, but contemporary artists David Haines and Joyce Hinterding certainly have been wondering about it – sound – a lot. What passive sounds can a payload make when moving through the air? They have chosen to do an installation in Australia and France about releasing a balloon into the stratosphere and exploring sound during the different stages of flight.

They have an upcoming exhibition opening at the Powerhouse Museum and at Parramatta in Sydney and I believe, later in France. We will be at the Powerhouse Museum for their opening night. Their details can be found at their website pages:

We have all heard the sound of the wind in recordings, but this art piece will record special sounds made by bows and strings vibrating in the wind. There were three instruments, each set to make a different pitched sound in three different planes.

A Sound Idea

They approached our balloon company, HABworx, recently to see about buying a weather balloon and doing the flight themselves. When they found out the task that they faced, they brought my son Jason and me on board to help with the technical aspects of the flight. They would concentrate of the sound aspects of the payload I met them last weekend and found out that there was a video being made of the entire workup to the flight and their friends from France would head home shortly. So one week out they hired us to make it all happen. Making Art and Sound would go into the Stratosphere

We ordered the helium, checked the electronics and arranged a NOTAM (NOtice To AirMen). A bit sexist these days, but that it what it is called. It is issued by Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) as I have already been approved to fly certain sized payloads to the Stratosphere – up to 4Kg. It took weeks and a lot of work on the risk assessment – 3 attempts at getting it right. We packed the car and met them at West Wyalong ready for the one hour trip to Rankin Springs in central NSW. The next morning we left separately after getting breakfast at the local bakery. We arrived at 8am. The rest of the team arrived nearly an hour later as they had to return to West Wyalong for fuel. They had forgotten to fill up their vehicle fuel tanks. There is nothing out there and small town fuel stations are often closed on weekends.

UpLift-28 payload sound systems preparationA Sound Launch

16-07-2016. It is winter in Australia and there had been a lot of rain over the last month. We normally launch in a reddish dirt field, but on launch day (yesterday at time of publication), it was a lush green and the small town even had to mow it in Winter. There was a frost on most of the field still in shadow, but it was warm in the sun. We set up our gear and waited for the team to arrive.

Rankins Springs Frost

Frost on the ground – Coldest launch yet.

We basically started at 9am, but their was one more wrinkle to iron out. I got a phone call from Rex Airlines operations. They had a flight from Sydney to Griffith and the pilot had asked that we don’t release the balloon between 10:45am and 11:30am local time. We agreed and so we had a 1.5 hour deadline or we may have to wait until 11:30am and that may be with a filled balloon if we were in the middle of a “fill” when we ran out of time.

I left the customer to prepare their payload, their sound instruments and sound recording and their spot tracker. I have an agreement with all flights that we have an amateur radio payload of 300 grams and usually carry an APRS transmitter and some other instruments as part of the deal. It is amazing how many HAM radio operators and others follow the flights on the APRS tracking website.

Uplift-28 balloon fillAt 10:25am the payload was complete and ready for flight so they gave me the OK to fill the balloon. That takes about 15 minutes as we like to use a standard party balloon regulator. We know that we can get a faster fill with a gauge regulator, but that is not a bog consideration and can cause trouble with extreme cold air in the neck of the balloon – especially in winter. I have no idea whether this affects the balloon, but I did not want to risk a problem. We used our special fill and seal system. It is a tube where the balloon and payload are already connected and after UpLift-28 Lift measurementthe fill, you just screw on a cap and release the balloon. You don’t need lots of people holding the balloon and there is no fear of last minute hassles securing the neck and payload. Simplicity and ease are how I would describe this light weight accessory.

At 10;42 the balloon was filled and released in about a minute. We rang Rex Airlines and gave operations the news that we were in the air.

UpLift-28 Release of sound recording payload

A Sound Flight

This is an unusual day to day the least – first request from an airline to delay a release and to be very clear, our flight was 100Km to the north of their flight path. A rather unusual request given that their altitude would be only about 6Km in my area at the most and by the time we intersected their flight path on a windy jet stream day we would be at 20Km. It worries me that we might get these requests regularly. Although the flight path can be way off the predictions, at the area of release, it is relatively accurate. As the flight time increases, the total error increases. Today we would find out that the winds were stronger than predicted. It went in the predicted direction, but traveled further due to stronger winds in the stratosphere. They got to 150kph – that is 93mph for those in the antiquated non metric systems! They were expected to be only be about 60kph maximum. At the time of the NOTAM it was only meant to travel about 50km from the release point. On the day the prediction was saying 90km and it turned out to be 130km travel. This was despite a slight overfill to ensure a good climb rate. We like about 6m/s. the direction of travel remain about the same.

Prediction for 2016-07-16_2 UpLift-28

Prediction for 2016-07-16 for UpLift-28 – line diagram (above)


Prediction for UpLift-28

Prediction for 2016-07-16 for UpLift-28 – 3D (above)

UpLift-28 Actual Flight.

UpLift-28 Actual Flight (above). Note that it is 2.5 times the initial prediction.

As for the Rex Airlines request, we honoured it, but we believe that they did not know that we were very experienced and could be trusted. There is no technical course to take when you decide to send a balloon to the stratosphere. You have to submit a risk assessment that is fairly tough and a “flight plan” that is really a prediction and may vary greatly as I said. I will talk to CASA today and see what I need to do in such situations. That is, when Rex Airlines asks for something that worries them on the day. To be fair – it was only the pilot of one flight – not everyone in the airline, but it was still a request from operations. If we had enough requests from pilots, then we would be stopped from flying totally. That would be an enormous amount of money to waste in this case. We had 4 vehicles and 9 people that had all traveled from Sydney for this release. 6 hotel rooms and the fact that the video people were returning to France would have been a serious blow to the whole event. I will discuss this with our Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) today and also Rex Airlines and I will report on the outcome.

The next unusual thing was that the balloon went west with the winds in the low troposphere – ground winds and lower level winds and then as the jet stream took over it came back over head. This was predicted. We set a new personal record for being able to see the 3m balloon with the naked eye. 11.1km altitude right overhead. That is 6.9 miles to be able to clearly see a 9 foot white object. Amazing! Not just one person, but several with good eyesight. The incredible clear Australian winter skies and the fact that it remained overhead to that altitude was a lot to do with it of course, but I would never have thought that it was possible. Previous best was 5km altitude. I doubt that we could top this because the conditions were perfect and the balloon was a pinprick of white in a bright blue sky. Polaroid glasses may have darkened the sky to help more, but the resolution of the tiny dot was probably at optical limits for everyone.

We will need to replace our APRS transmitters because the transmitter is definitely failing. We thought it was cold from not insulating it well enough last time, but it also appears to be low power and some sort of distortion is still there at the slightest hint of cold. Last time it stopped working when exposed directly to the jet stream conditions. This time it transmitted consistently, but with large gaps all through the flight. Our ham radio had a lot of trouble picking up the signal and decoding it. This was only the start of the problems.

We tracked the payload and we were getting odd data and even set a new second personal best – an altitude of 33.668m or 20.920 miles or 110,459 feet. To be clear, we are never trying to break records. This was a 1.2Kg balloon with a 2Kg payload. Nothing special. One day we might try to see what altitude we can reach, but it will be a special flight and we might not try to recover the tracker. we would use more fuel than the tracker is worth. We need to declare that in advance so you don’t think that we lost a payload! It may be a nice job to send our dodgy tracker on a farewell flight and see if we can heat the tracker to keep it active and send it on its way. Sounds like a plan.

A Not so Sound Descent

The next problem was clear when we later saw the video that we recovered. The balloon exploded and a piece if balloon fouled the bottom of the parachute sealing the cords together and stopping the parachute from opening. The second issue was that the cord to the parachute twisted around the payload placing it on its side – even slightly upside down. The spinning slightly inverted payload mean that the SPOT 3 either never got GPS lock or could not get a good signal to the relay satellite. It also landed upside down and when we found it it also seemed to have turned itself of. It was useless. Our primary tracker was gone and we had a partially working APRS tracker. We headed past West Wyalong and to the road to Grenfell where it had given its last report at 5km altitude.

UpLift-28 watery walk to Payload landing siteFailure is Not an Option

We had a search on our hands over a wide area. We did however have a little luck on our side. As we drove past the location that we last got a decodeable transmission from the APRS unit, we heard a faint burst of noise in the receiver. That was the APRS transmitter still working with its antenna on the ground. The search area narrowed and with a tiny bit of deduction, I turned off the road and moved 50 metres closer to the downed payload and I got UpLift-28 founda decodeable burst of data. Not only that my radio digipeated to to an iGate (HAM radio talk) 240Km away and we had a fix on maps on the Internet. It was 200m / 660 feet to the north of the road. We placed our horse blanket over the barbed wire fence and walked without compass in the direction of the payload. Jason spotted it first and even though it hit hard, everything was working fine. Even the sound instruments were undamaged.

Uplift-28 Parachute twisted shut.

Jason holding the useless balloon (above)

Everyone was ecstatic and the video is truly amazing – we had a look at some of it in a little coffee shop in Grenfell. I expect that we will be assisting this team when they next need to fly. Again, this is another case of only having a partial track, but experience and a good radio ability is key to success. Before we left the landing field my son Jason (14) and I had our traditional toast to another success. It is some of the best ginger beer on the planet that is non-alcoholic. Bundaburg Ginger Beer – it is a soft drink / soda. Balloon release 28 and recovery 28. Our 100% success rate remains intact. It was a very nice drive home on a natural “high” – 33.668m high!

Videos later. More on the sound made by the passive “musical” instruments  in the video post – they worked and you will hear them. Not so musical, but more like a buzz saw!

UpLift-28 payload ready to take back to cars

UpLift-28 Payload packed and ready

UpLift-28 Robert and Jason Brand toasting success.

Robert & Jason Brand celebrating 28 releases & 28 recoveries. 100% Success. (soft drink/soda!

ThunderStruck Spacecraft Development Begins

BOR-4 breakdownWinged Spacecraft Takes Form

Our ThunderStruck team has commenced design of the ThunderStruck Spacecraft. This graphic, courtesy of Project Thunderstruck team member David Galea, is just a doodle to break down the benefits of the Russian BOR-4 design. We then looked at Dream Chaser which looks surprisingly similar, but with a modern interior. We too will have a similar design but with some big differences. Our starting length will be 3m (10 feet); our unfueled mass is expected to be 400Kg and optimum payload return will be 50Kg. It will have hypergolic fuel for the space flight – main thrust and hypergolic thrusters.

This From Wikipedia:

A hypergolic propellant combination used in a rocket engine is one whose components spontaneously ignite when they come into contact with each other.

The two propellant components usually consist of a fuel and an oxidizer. Although commonly used hypergolic propellants are difficult to handle because of their extreme toxicity and/or corrosiveness, they can be stored as liquids at room temperature and hypergolic engines are easy to ignite reliably and repeatedly.

We are now go for liftoff in eerrhhhh …in 6 years… But we have started. We are choosing a suitable fuel at this time – one that is relatively safe for humans and still able to provide the thrust needed to de-orbit and maneuver. There are new fuels – not as powerfully as many of the well known thruster fuels, but sacrificing power for safety could be a really good thing if the numbers stack up.

The Invasion of Space has Begun.

At this time, the Thunderstruck transonic test vehicle has been on hold, but it too will benefit from the spacecraft design kicking off since they may share common components. The Spacecraft will be slow to design and build compared to the transonic testing flier, but we have to start this if we are to finish it in a timely fashion.

It is expected that we will partner with a university that will assist with the build. At this time we are closest to Sydney University and we know that they have similar goals of working with a winged re-entry flier.

It is clear that we are not relying on using the Russian BOR-4 as a blueprint, but it is a starting point. It is also clear that the BOR-4 and the Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser share a lot of common air frame characteristics. So Dream Chaser was the next craft to go under the microscope.

Critical to the design and thus one of the first components to understand is the type of fuel that will be needed. This may determine that we need a bigger craft to carry the tanks or that the shape must be different to handle the large tanks.

Dream Chaser Graphic on top of a Rocket for LaunchDream Chaser is large and has a crew. Our craft does not have a crew and the spacecraft is small in comparison.

Dream Chaser can launch on top of a rocket and we expect ThunderStruck to do the same. ThunderStruck is way smaller and potentially has folding wings and thus could sit inside a fairing making the ride more comfortable.

ThunderStruck will have docking ring and the ability to swap old and new payload canisters. ie to provide a new empt7y canister to , say, an asteroid service craft and bring back a full set of samples.

ThunderStruck will evolve and its capabilities will change as we grow. Our aim is to make the smallest rocket launched spacecraft with wings for re-entry and an exchangeable payload.


Strong Winds Ahead for Australia.

Jet Stream Winds bring Antarctic Weather

I have to launch a balloon this weekend – commercial – UpLift -28. The winds over the eastern states are over 300kph in the jet stream and strangely, they are worse in the Stratosphere. After this one band of strong winds there is another band of strong winds. Luckily for me there is a lull between the bands on Saturday. It is the only day that has a suitable “window” to release a weather balloon flight to the stratosphere and back. We will have a great time helping a group get their balloon in the air and Jason and I will also be recovering the balloon. It will be a great day! In the picture below the current winds are headed from west to east.

Robert Brand's photo.

It will be a real challenge to get the timing right. It is expected that the forecast will change and we will have to adjust the time of the flight to keep it inside out approved area.

On our return, there will be a great video from the flight which will be all about ART – in this case audio art. The flight will be investigating a range of sounds and will also be looking at Very Low Frequency transmissions as low as below 20KHz. This should be fun.

Rossby Waves

Primarily the nasty winds are due to Global warming. I wrote a story on this in the past called:

This will drag up cold weather from the south and bring snow and icy weather to the lower parts of Australia. Yes, the ski fields are getting a blast of snow for the start of the season. The Rossby waves are caused by the instability in the Hadley cells which in turn are caused by warmer temperatures making the difference between the boundaries less, weakening the walls between the cells.

This unusual weather has seen Russian adventurer Fedor Konyukhov lift off from Western Australia on his, hopefully, record breaking flight around the world.

Fedor Konyukhov World Record Balloon Ride Attempt.

This is a hot air balloon with helium cells built into the walls. You can track the flight on this page.

As for UpLift-28, If i had launched today, we would have seen winds so strong that the flight would have ended up in the pacific Ocean even though I am 7-8 hours drive from the coast. The winds have extended from the ground to 35km altitude and maybe more. This is different from normal where the jet stream winds do not influence the winds in the stratosphere and they normally run east to west.

My Saturday flight is a much more relaxed affair:

Prediction for 2016-07-16_2 UpLift-28
Mars Quad Rotor Test Flight Murdoch University PlusComms HABworx

A New Mars Challenge

Mars Quad Rotor Test Flight Murdoch University PlusComms HABworxby Robert Brand

Flying Around Mars

I promised real space adventure when I started WotzUp and I believe that we have delivered, but this post is starting to get serious. We have been approached by Murdoch University to test a Mars Capable Quad-copter in flight at 35km altitude here on Earth!

Flight on Mars will be very difficult and testing will be a huge component in convincing a sponsor to take the technology to Mars. If ti was easy, everyone would be doing it.

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Seeing my First Rocket Launch

ULS Delta V Launch - small 2016-06-24by Robert Brand

ULA Atlas V Launch – June 24th 2016

Now, I’m not talking about the little stuff that gets to a couple of kilometres. I’m talking about launches to orbit. I missed the largest modern launch earlier in June, but I was at Spacefest – the biggest and best every – and I aimed for later in June – an Atlas V with fewer boosters. I was not disappointed.

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