World Moon Bounce day collage

STEM/STEAM and Wotzup

Jason delivering 18 lectures in 3 days at AlburySTEM/STEAM Power at WotzUp

Good Facebook friend Peter Ellis from Canberra in Australia attended a Wireless Institute of Australia Conference in Canberra that was address STEM/STEAM and HAM radio. He posted on my Facebook page:

“AREG.org.au talked about Horus flights, etc. I mentioned your efforts”.

my response (below) sounds like I was criticising Peter a bit for singing my praises, but I was not. I just wanted a group that was there to tell their story to have a go as they have done a great job over the years pushing HAM radio and balloon flight. They were there before me and have had an exciting time with nearly 40 flights so far. The group has changed a lot, but that does not matter, the opportunity for STEM/STEAM goes

So What is STEM/STEAM Education?

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. STEAM adds in the arts. I think that we need a balance and that comes from the arts – making the rest less sterile.

The AREG guys from South Australia where there to tell the story of their contribution to STEM and HAM radio. I guess that I should have been there to tell of the work that I was doing if I had had the time. I am the one at fault and the the AREG team do not want to hear about me doing stuff too in the same area at the end of their presentation. We all love and believe in STEM or STEAM.

What does WotzUp do for HAM Radio and STEM/STEAM

Peter’s  question at the end of their talk has prompted me to let others know what my son and I do to help in this area. I put it to you as a challenge to do better and to help kids all over the world grow and be inspired.

Well first and most obvious is this website. It is a place where we post what we are doing for others to learn and make their own dreams and bring them to reality. There are other websites too, like http://projectthunderstruck.org  We really try to communicate our efforts.

As for balloons payloads / flights to the Stratosphere, I am directly responsible for 1/3 of all balloon flights in Australia at the moment and altogether 1/2 of all flights due to mentoring so many teams. This figure comes from a source in the Civil Aviation Safety Authority of Australia.

Here are a few highlights of what we are doing with STEM/STEAM. This would have been my contribution if I had had the time to attend the Canberra Conference:

In 2009 on the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11, I and another US guy put on World Moon bounce day where kids around the world spoke Jamboree of the air style via bouncing signals off the moon using 30-60m dishes. The Uni of Tas – with an old NASA dish that was in use at the time of the Apollo landing – Orroral Valley – broke world records for the smallest signal to every be bounced of the moon and decoded successful by another site on the earth. 3mW!

Echoes of Apollo? What is That? It was simply the website that preceded the WotzUp website. Because I did not own the domain name, all the stories and content are lost. None the less some of these videos survived. The World Moon Bounce Day remains one of the biggest successes of HAM Radio and STEM?STEAM The work to organise such an event was impossible to maintain, but the two years that we made it happen was amazing. 

The next year in 2010 we were given Arecibo for three days as we did it all again. World Moon Bounce day nearly became World Moon Bounce Week

World Moon Bounce day collage

gunghlin College student with the very light weight recovered payload - mainly foamJust last week Jason and I flew UpLift 29, supporting a very progressive Canberra School. It is a public high school – Gungahlin College. It was a mechatronics class and it was Australia’s first steerable parachute flight in the stratosphere. I placed 4 risk assessments to CASA for that and did it at cost for the physical stuff. The school felt I was undercharging and paid me a further $300 dollars that I pretty much donated to the Rankins Springs primary school – a regional primary school right opposite the field that we so often use. I like giving back to the community and forging a link to science and the public school seemed a good idea. We give the odd lecture at the school too.

Gunghlin College Mecgatronics Students about to recover their payload from 33Km altitude 100m away.

HAM Radio Repeaters in Central NSW

Jason and I almost got stuck on a slick and rutted road in Central NSW surveying radio towers.More STEM/STEAM directly for HAM purposes: We use so much radio that I am personally about to put a lot of radio repeaters in my balloon launch area to support the work that I do when amateur radio is appropriate. It is also to provide the local community a way of connecting to others that is not possible without the infrastructure being there. The repeaters will be solar powered and donated by me. I believe that the first will be on a small peak to the NE of Weethalie NSW and it will form a link that will cover the road between West Wyalong and Rankins Springs. It may be usable as far away as Griffith with a good yagi. The site will also support APRS contacts and transport them to the web. This will be a real asset in times of flood and fire. It will be able to support STEM activities if HAM radio support is there. I spoke to the President of the WIA about this only 4 weeks ago – Phil Wait. Phil is a friend and I worked with him some 40 years ago.

Jason Brand and Dr Barry Jones - past Science Minister

Jason and and Dr Barry Jones – past Science Minister

Junior STEM/STEAM: I nearly forgot to mention that Jason gave 18 lectures in three days when he was 10 years old – for Science Week in Australia. We traveled a day by car to Albury (and a day back at the end of the lectures). We even launched a balloon on the last day and tracked with with HAM radio APRS as he gave the lectures to students from all over the region. Some in year 12. He was in year 6 – seriously. He had his HAM radio license earlier in the year when he was 9 years old. As you can see, we are a hugely STEM focused family binging HAM radio to the community and to kids especially.

Jason’s story about Albury and the event down there is on this link:

http://wotzup.com/2013/10/jason-delivers-18-lectures-3-days/

I do not begrudge Horus getting there time in the spotlight, they are a fantastic group giving back to the community and I sure as hell don’t need the pat on the back, but the true picture of STEM work in the HAM community is not known by those in the HAM community. Just because people were not able to attend does not mean that there are not other amazing stories that remain untold. This is just one example. There are many others working hard to bring STEM/STEAM HAM radio to students. As I said, Phil at the WIA knows about my proposed my HAM radio repeater work and he is looking at a band plan to cover off on a new type of repeater configuration that will cover more than one state in Multicast mode. The WIA are currently writing a story on the Mars mission that we are doing. Making HAM radio relevant is the big deal and STEM/STEAM connects with students. Students are the target of HAM radio to stay functional. Having enough users to ensure that the bands don’t get removed for other purposes is a real self interest aspect of all of this. Nothing wrong with that so long as we all realise the self interest of STEM/STEAM and the benefits that a self interested group can contribute to. It is wonderful, the linkages work so well and provide benefit both ways – that is when things really work well.

Thanks for the mention at the conference, but no one would have a clue about what Jason and I do…

Mars Quad Rotor Test Flight Murdoch University PlusComms HABworxSTEM/STEAM events for next year include flying a 4 rotor Mars flier at 34Km altitude in a bit of a partnership with Murdoch Uni (WA). HAM radio will be at the heart of this.

http://wotzup.com/2016/07/new-mars-flight-challenge/

Sydney uni has a stratospheric blimp that also want to work with me to test at 34Km – a small version of our StratoDrone essentially. Again HAM radio.

As for the testing of the Mars Median mission, I have put it to the WIA that we may have a HF radio event to focus attention on the work Australia is doing in space. The site will be a salt lake where we are doing the drop testing. Plenty of scope for STEM/STEAM in all these events.

Like I said., Do better. I am always, always happy for others to do better than Jason and myself. We are not the high water mark, but we know that we do a lot. Tells us what you do to promote STEM/STEAM.

HAM Radio Underpinning Mars Mission

HAM Radio Support for Mission

Aussie HAM Radio Operator to Make an Impact on Mars

HAM Radio Operator Robert Brand VK2URB11 impacts to be precise. Early next year on a salt lake in Central Australia an Australian HAM radio operator will be conducting tests of a wide area radio network destined for Mars

Robert Brand, VK2URB, of Thunderstruck Aerospace reports that it is an essential part of a project to develop the Mars Nano-Lander and Methane detection system called MEDIAN, set to land in 2025.

It calls for 10 separate penetrators to be ejected from the jettisoned heat shield at about 6km from the surface of Mars. They will spear into the surface of Mars at 80m/second and form a ring about 8Km wide. The radio systems will begin measuring distance between the other landers and map the network. They will then switch to a random packet mode and begin ferrying messages to the 11th unit that will be a relay to an orbiting craft. Even the orientation of each probe will be detected and used to calculate the direction that wind (and hopefully any methane)is coming from in the thin Martian atmosphere.

Robert VK2URB says that the audacious mission is a joint project with the UK Methane detection group at the University of Central Lancashire and the Australian Thunderstruck Aerospace team. Robert is the design architect of the landing system, the mapping, orientation, communications, data relay, and the on-going non-methane science package. He says that never before has a network of probes been landed anywhere outside of earth and never before have impactors landed with the intention of surviving the process. Also never before has Australia directly played such a huge role in any Mars mission.

The possibility of microbial life on Mars has been discussed by scientists since the presence of methane gas on the red planet was found several years ago. Median will map possible methane vent locations for a rover to investigate. If the rover fails to land, the project will still relay local weather and subsoil information back to earth.

It’s expected that the tests in central Australia during April 2017 will demonstrate the essential role that radio will play in mapping, locating, orienting the network and then relaying data around the network. The tests will involve dropping a simulated heat shied from 3Km altitude and having the impactors fire at 2.5Km feet to simulate the impact that each would have on Mars. We will work with CASA to organise restricted airspace for the testing.

Even the orientation of each probe will be detected and used to calculate the direction that wind is coming from in the thin Martian atmosphere. The penetrators will stay vertical and will elevate the science and radio package about 1m off the surface allowing for better radio connectivity and clear wind profile. A 1M in diameter solar panel will provide adequate power and the network is expected to survive for at least 6 month on Mars relaying weather and sub surface information from fixed points around an area the size of a small city. It is expected that 7 of the 10 spikes will survive the impact.

HAM radio will provide essential communications for the tests and for the event. It is hoped a special event around the testing will attract the interests of HAM operators world-wide, focusing attention of the role that Australia is playing in space missions.

Footnote: It should be noted that no commercial activity will take place as part of the testing, allowing HAM radio support. HAM Radio is a strictly non commercial activity.

Aussies Working on Mars Median Mission

Mars showing landscape similar to our landing site

Mars NanoLander Network

Well, who would have thought? I am the architect of a real Mars mission. A fantastic project and an incredible program for me to really “launch into space”. Our new company – ThunderStruck Aerospace – is heavily involved in the mission and we will keep you up to date as we progress.

Space Just got Simpler with the launch of ThunderStruck Aerospace. Looking for aerospace solutions that work? ThunderStruck is based on working with problems, not against them. Where others try to counter the problem, we try to use the problem to advantage. An example is our latest project Mars Median. The task was to gently land 10 or more probes in a tight network on Mars. Near Impossible, right? In fact the “experts” said that it can’t be done. That is because they were simply trying to fight the problem of getting rid of all velocity. Enter ThunderStruck. In 2013 we were invited to solve this problem – successfully landing a network on Mars.

We decided to keep some of that velocity and use it to advantage. A ring of Mars impactors. They are designed to land our packages off the ground by about a metre or so because having a methane experiment in clear unobstructed air mattered. It was also good for the radio network. Getting rid of a parachute was also critical. A parachute on top of any of our experiments would be a waste. Landing at 80 – 90m/s is both survivable and important to success. Having a probe in the ground can increase the science that we can do and improve the efficiency of the Methane experiment.

A Nanolander needs to use almost everything twice to save on mass. The collar that we use to to limit the velocity also doubles as a solar panel and the tungsten tipped penetrator is both a sensor and earth mat. The radio network is both a communications system and a topography mapper. Reuse and embracing the benefits of what may seem your enemy is what ThunderStruck is all about. The Median Mars mission is not our only project, but it best demonstrates the power of thinking in new ways.

Read more about the design and integration of the experiment into the back of a heatshield by selecting Median from our menu at http://thunderstruck.space

If you need an innovative aerospace partner, think ThunderStruck.

Mars Median Before Breakfast

Early Sketch Mars Spike by Todd HampsomWhat did you do before Breakfast?

by Robert Brand: I spent the morning before breakfast (5am) calculating speeds for the Median Mars impactors and a new slowing system designed to use the worst case situation – low altitude deployment, but still produce a good sized circle of nodes over 8km wide and have them impact near vertically. Important for the methane airflow in the wind. I have sorted out determination of north and south in the absence of a magnetic field to an accuracy of a few degrees. Worked on the correctional systems for the data and the inclusion of a 1m in diameter soft solar panel – a lot of power! We may be able to have every node communicate with an orbital directly.for relay back to earth. There should be enough battery power for a small battery compartment heater to make the night survivable for the battery.

The impact speed will be between 80 and 90 metres per second and we will begin calculations on the g forces after inertial suppression. It is really fun to get something right and not have issues with the maths.my payloads on my stratospheric balloons usually hit the ground or rocks at 8m/s and we are looking at just 10 times that. We have also survived impacts of 40m/s when the parachutes fail to open and we have never had broken equipment. That includes cameras, trackers and other sensitive electronics. This is looking very easily survivable and very powerful. I like it when a plan comes together as well as this one has.his is more than just “doable” This is magnificent.

Thought for the day (after this mornings work) – if you want to work on spacecraft – study mathematics, Astronomy – study mathematics. Rocket propulsion – study mathematics. Navigation – study Mathematics. The core for success in space is Mathematics. It is consistent across the whole sector. Ha! More work before breakfast!

The diagram is from Todd Hampson – one of our core team at ThunderStruck Aerospace. Todd is calculating the braking speeds with air density info, gravity friction, etc, etc. from a supersonic deployment speed in the martian atmosphere, taking into account a lot of transonic forces. Smart guy. The diagram is close to the finished penetrator design, but there are several changes. The design being tested will weigh about 6Kg and use an initial parachute of 2m that gets discarded at altitude.

Nick Howes, the Team Leader, commented: Parachutes may not be viable, as the air mass will be so low surely?

mars-2m-parachute-deployment-graphRobert: Nick, what you don’t know is why you have me working with you on this project and the entire ThunderStruck team. When you are traveling at half the speed of sound a 1% density makes a real difference. Even individual air molecules will eventual pull a satellite from orbit. You can get verification from you UCLAN counterparts. It is all in the maths and the previous work that Todd and I put into understanding the dynamics of transonic air-flows has given us the ability to know what happens in the earth’s stratosphere and that is very similar to Mars. You must trust the experts here. I am currently working on testing a 4 rotor flier at 34Km. There is low density air there, but it is how you use it. This is what opening a 2m chute will do on Mars at high speed with a 6Kg penetrator. It does not do much once the speed reaches 30m per second, but it does slow the beast down. This graph is adjusted for Mars gravity, and air densities. The rate of slowing is immense when the speed is greatest (top of chart). Todd wrote this transonic spreadsheet. It is incredibly complex.

Nick: superb, thank you for the clarification

Robert: I will make public what I can without compromising the mission or the bosses requirements. I hope that you find our design discussions right here on these pages useful. As you can see today, Nick, the boss, is not an expert on parachutes in the martian atmosphere. His brilliance lies elsewhere such as thinking up this mission in the first place. he has to defer that stuff to me and hopefully I will bring the engineering side to the table along with all the dynamic stuff and the electronics and radio gear. Likewise I know nothing about the stuff that Nick does. Individually this mission would have sat on the bench, but these days, with a dynamic team with their own areas of expertise, it is full speed ahead.

Nick: Once the iteration completes (and that has to be soon) then the test/modelling will happen… then we’ll know size for all the science package. At that point., you’re go to start work on comms too… to fit it inside, with the methane sensors etc. We’re prototyping on Arduino/Pi type devices, but will fab radiation hardened custom setups for final flight testing etc

….and this all happened before breakfast…

Mars Live – Australian Tour

Mars Live Australian Tour
Mars Live – 20% Off

Presented by: National Geographic Live – Mars Live!

Exploration has always been a defining feature of what it means to be Human. Today this distinctly Human trait is as strong as ever with the exploration of space at the forefront of our achievements. Many believe that Mars represents our future and our ability to ensure the survival of the Human race.

Human exploration and an eventual permanent presence on Mars is no longer a distant dream but a realistic objective for the human race.

For the first time, National Geographic Live is bringing the world’s leading authorities together for a unique major live event to discuss global space agency plans and the immense challenges awaiting Humankind’s next great space adventure.

Mars Live! Be there and join our Host Ray Martin as he presents live on stage, Apollo Legend and Mars advocate ‘Buzz Aldrin’, with leading authorities from US and European global space agencies including Prof. Mark McCaughrean Senior Science Advisor European Space Agency in a world first National Geographic Live event. Special guest appearance by Astrophysicist Dr Katherine Mack.

Using stunning images and footage from global space agencies and National Geographic Channel’s landmark new television series ‘MARS’, directed by Ron Howard and produced by Brian Grazer, audiences will experience live an exciting journey to the Red Planet our future new home.


Would you like to catch up with me –Robert Brand –  at or before the Sydney event? Leave a comment on this page and I will organise what we will be doing – possibly an early get together before the Mars Live event, but certainly a huge opportunity to meet with some of great people that love space that live around Sydney.


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Fri 4 Nov 2016
Melbourne Town Hall, VIC
Sun 6 Nov 2016
Hordern Pavilion, Sydney, NSW
Mon 7 Nov 2016
Llewellyn Hall, Canberra, ACT