Where is our Australian Space Agency?

Robert brand 2013 - discussing a Space AgencyAustralia Deserves a Space Agency.

I recently wrote a letter to the minister for Industry, Innovation and Science – The Hon. Arthur Sinodinos AO. I asked for support of Support for MEDIAN was not necessarily financial. I also asked about the rather essential Space Agency.

At this time I will just post my letter and the government’s response.

There maybe some updates from the Minister’s office in the next couple of days. I expect something to happen later in the year, but what it will be is a little up in the air. I will reserve my judgement for a couple of days. The Minister’s office may just decide to respond with a better outcome.

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Dear Sir,

I would like to introduce myself. My name is Robert Brand and I am the manager at ThunderStruck Aerospace (ThunderStruck), a section of PlusComms that is soon to be its own company. ThunderStruck has been formed to bring to market a number of major aerospace innovations that are also very important to Defence. These are mainly my intellectual property. These include:

  • A StratoDrone capable of staying in the same location for months at a time at an altitude of 16Km to 20Km. It will cut the cost of Drone requirements dramatically and can provide communications to regions of Australia without the need for satellite coverage and latency.
  • A passive laser reflector that when scanned, returns a digital ID. Useful for space navigation, but also land based applications.
  • A Mars Mission called MEDIAN. MEthane Detection by In-Situ Analysis with Network. This mission has completed the first three milestones in the US and UK and is now been handed to Australia to bring to completion on Mars.
  • Other work from team members include a major launch facility near Darwin, a solid rocket booster (SRB) that can also double as a sounding rocket and a winged re-entry vehicle. These later projects have had planning work completed, but ThunderStruck will focus on the top three for business reasons. We are simply too small at this time to tackle anything else.

My work in the space sector dates back to Apollo 11. I am arguably Australia’s leading Space Entrepreneur and by the work that I do, an aerospace engineer and innovator. At the age of 17 I was involved in construction of the Sydney Apollo 11 video centre in Australia with the feeds from Honeysuckle Creek and the Parkes Radio Telescope. I supported almost every mission from Apollo 11 to STS-1 and a minor support role in in Shuttle flights right up to 1985. In that time I worked at the Parkes Radio Telescope in support of Voyager’s Uranus encounter and ESA’s Giotto mission to Halley’s Comet. I was instrumental in finding and repairing faults in critical ESA systems at Parkes that had eluded ESA staff for 6 months.

In recent times I have been working on stratospheric research and I am involved with Murdoch University and Sydney University in the development of a Mars flier and a Mars Airship. I am also a regular guest lecturer at Sydney University and have jointly judged cubesat competitions at the University. I have appeared on TV around the world and in print. In Croatia I was invited to a meeting with the President because of the assistance that I was giving to helping students with their stratospheric experiments. It would seem that similar work here of a greater scale goes unnoticed. None the less, the work is not for personal recognition, or I would have stopped doing it a long time ago.

To complete the overview of my involvement in the space sector, I am well respected internationally, being invited to speak at many international conferences, particularly in the USA. I have given three papers at the International Space Development Conference, I am an annual speaker at Spacefest and I am considered to be “part of the Spacefest family”. This year I will be the international speaker at the June AIAA Houston dinner for 200 people. Internationally my credentials are impeccable and my work exemplary. Here in Australia without the backing of a space agency, my work is not as well-known as it is overseas.

The MEDIAN project is simply the biggest opportunity in the space sector that has landed on Australia’s doorstep since the early days of space. The project is internationally accepted as a mission of considerable value. It is expected to have a flight offered in the near future, but the ideal flight to Mars would be with the US rover in about 8 years’ time. That is very short, but NASA interests have requested a white paper to circulate to the mission specialists. That will occur this week.

I became involved in the MEDIAN mission in 2012 when the creator of the mission, internationally renowned astronomer Nick Howes visited Spacefest. In talks he described the complexity of landing a 6 to 12 probe network on mars and he had been told numerous times from many experts: “It can’t be done”. When I was asked, it was because of my work in the stratosphere with high altitude balloons. Although this is why he came to me, it was not the solution that I proposed. It was with penetrators. Essentially taking the approach that “velocity is my friend” rather than something bad. The recent work in a Moroccan Mars simulation in the desert and work in a UK university to confirm the figures that I had established has lead the mission creator to hand the project in its entirety to ThunderStruck in Australia. This now becomes a project controlled 100% here in Australia.

I am writing to you to ask what support there might be from government for this proposed mission as at this time we do not have a Space Agency to push this project forward and clear any hurdles.

My concern is that we are not being a smart country when it comes to space. The marketplace is some US$330B and we only get 1% of that. Only with a Space Agency will we compete and not see this erode.in the long term. For many decades I have heard politicians hide behind the mantra of “we will never be big enough to launch rockets into space”. I find it sickening that New Zealand has both a Space Agency and a launch capability. Yes, the Agency is recent, but the mantra has somewhat educated people that this could never happen. It is not only time to establish an agency, it is important to ensure that this mission is seen as a platform to put Australian Space back in the international running for space innovation. The Space Policy does not address this and it is clear that support is elsewhere as far as a strategic direction is concerned

To suggest that Australia is too small for a Space Agency is self-fulfilling and an insult to innovation that is being squashed in the sector none the less. There is no investment because there is no Agency. I expect to be speaking at the International Astonautical Federation conference to be held in Adelaide Later in the year. I hope to hear an Australian Space Agency announcement then or hopefully before that.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Brand

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I sent the letter and I had hoped that this might attract a response of support for the concept of MEDIAN and something way more than I received. When you consider MEDIAN is expected to be the biggest mission to space that Australia will have ever had, I was shocked at the response. Please remember that Jennifer Doyle is the Manager, Civil Space  and Cyber Security. Her position has to toe the line of the limits of what she can say. It is not her response that shocks me, but the lack of any reasonable response by the government. As for a Space Agency, Jennifer has no ability to say anything. I have scanned the response so it is an image.

Where is our Space Agency?

The letter paints a poor future, but this may not be the case.

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Sen Arthur Sinodinos 2017-03 Space Agency and MEDIAN response

I was shocked, but realise that Jennifer Doyle could do nothing more. I have spent over half an hour talking to the Senator’s science advisor. I am hoping for a better response, before I escalate this to the press. If you are not across the work that the Senators office is doing, you would not be aware that something is on the way. A Space Agency? Who knows at this stage.

HAM APRS Tracker – Byonics to the Rescue – sort of.

APRS Tracker Issues – an Amusing Response.

In Australia to use an APRS tracker you will need a “full call sign” for an amateur radio operator. A foundation or other license is not good enough. We use these trackers by always ensuring that we are not putting it on to a commercial payload, or that the commercial payload agrees to space in their payload for community experiments. We always use 2 trackers and they simply may be a pair of SpOT trackers or a spot tracker and APRS. At times we have even used 2 APRS trackers with different SSIDs (identifying codes)

My High Altitude Balloon (HAB) work just got made a little easier. My old trackers were all starting to fail. I just took delivery from Byonics of one of their MT2000 HAM radio APRS trackers. This is only for licensed Ham Radio operators and it is a sweet device for its size. It can output over 2W of power and has a full transceiver on board. It is easily configurable and runs off 5v to 12v. I think power output is a bit less than 500mw at 5V. It is as light at anything and easily programmable as I also bought the USB cable – a 9 pin D connector for RS232 slips over the end and I will solder it in place. I usually slip a VHF antenna right on the end (red cover cap) and I will solder the special GPS receiver in place on the board. There is still a connector on the GPS unit. It should be noted that these GPS units are configured to work above 60,000 ft as most GPS stop there. Don’t try using the GPS in your phone for tracking on a balloon!

Hey, before I go too far with the Tracker, here is a video from one of our flights. Made for MYOB, it shows the quality of our work. This payload was extreme and we built it on the spot from a wooden frame prepared the night before:

I suggest that you click full screen to get the real impact of this video! In fact go to YouTube and it is really HD

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvWjNYja8xA

The payload had 8 cameras 3 power banks, 6 voltage regulators, 1 actuator and 2 trackers. One camera was a Fly360 x 240 camera.

Back to the tracker:

https://www.byonics.com/mt-2000

Here is what they say:

The Micro­Trak 2000 (MT2K) is a frequency agile, 2 Watt, programmable miniature APRS (Automatic Position Reporting System) transmitter utilizing a TinyTrak3 controller chip and is capable of operating from 144 to 148 MHz.

Just plug in a GPS receiver, such as the Byonics GPS5, add a SMA antenna, and start tracking!

  • No need to tie up an expensive radio for APRS tracking
  • Simple 2 wire GPS connection
  • Supports all the latest Byonics TinyTrak3 features.

Note the special GPS block in the picture below. That is what to look for:

Byonics MT2000 APRS Tracker

APRS Tracker Failures – Why?

We could not get an answer to this question because we are simply too good at recovering the units.

We insulate them with bubble wrap, but the super low temperatures in the jet stream (-50ish C) seem to affect the devices over time. Several have died. When I asked Byonics the question as to why, it appears no one can answer me. It seems customers always loses their trackers and we seem to only notice this problem because we have never lost a payload and keep using them. It looks like they only last about 10 flights with super low temperatures and super low pressure. If this works as expected, then I will have to order more. Everyone else loses them by this time. I expect it is a temperature issue and we will try and compensate of update our units after about 7 flights.

Configuring your APRS Tracker

The important parameters to specify for preconfiguration when ordering from Australia for a MT2000 balloon tracker are:

Your HAM radio Call Sign with the appropriate SSID. Mine is VK2URB-11

The Digi Repeater parameters:  WIDE 1-1

The Australian APRS frequency:  145.175MHz

Transmit interval:  every 20 seconds – no receiver check

Symbol:  /o balloon

Any appropriate text:  mine is “UpLift Balloon”. Keep it short as it makes the transmit packet bigger.

Watch out – other countries use different frequencies

Space Tools – Reaction Wheel Fun

Reaction Wheels are Great Fun

How do you keep a spacecraft large or small stable in space? Reaction Wheels are one way. Writing software to control one reaction wheel of four is tough, but this toy/tool lets you test them. at least if they are small.

A reaction wheel Test platform

I love playing with this beast. it is to simulate the operation of reaction wheels that are used to stabilise small spacecraft. I was at Sydney Uni discussing our StratoDrone and how to build a test flight involving a zero pressure balloon. More on that later, but we now have a plan. This reaction wheel test jig is hugely expensive and it sits on a partial ball that then sits on a vertical stand in a half hemispherical hollow fed by air. Basically it floats on air and the reaction wheel results are clearly seen. You can test your electronics and your programming. Although these are bigger than those used for a cubesat, they still work the same and produce this visual action. It of course does not go around fully as in space. It hits limits in the ability to roll and pitch, but the actions can be seen clearly. I love this tool so much.

You can also see that the various axis are written on the perspex above the reaction wheels. There are only three needed in a basic unit, but 4 are often provided in case one fails. It is placed at such and angle that it influences all three axis. If one fails, then the 4th replaces it and the working two have to counteract the influence it has on them. It means it also has to spin 3 times more to achieve the same result in replacing the faulty unit.

There are other platforms and ways to test reaction wheels. even hanging a test object on a long cord from the ceiling will give a good indication of what is happening at almost zero cost, but this tool is way more elegant and will give a more accurate result.

I love space toys! – erh – I mean space tools.

When to use a Reaction Wheel

The ISS uses Gyros and not reaction wheels. They are not the same, but I will not go into that in detail here, but I will say that Gyros don’t always work. They reach a stage where they get saturated and require a sort of reset and thrusters are needed to get things stable again.

A control moment gyroscope (CMG) is an attitude control device generally used in spacecraft attitude control systems. A CMG consists of a spinning rotor and one or more motorized gimbals that tilt the rotor’s angular momentum. They are big and heavy. They are used on board the ISS and spin constantly. No manned craft or craft visiting the ISS has ever used gyros. A gyro can exert torque along any axis by turning the gimbals. It is also very big and heavy. The whole assembly is roughly spherical in shape.

As for reaction wheels, once the reaction wheel reaches its maximum angular velocity, it must be slowed down and the resulting torque must be counteracted with thrusters. Usually there always are some reaction control thrusters and if precise attitude control is needed, there are reaction wheels in addition to thrusters. The reaction wheels maintain precise stability until they reach their limits. They are however very useful for cubesats. Cubesats may also be further stabilised along the earth’s magnetic field by the use of a powerful magnet on board the spacecraft. care must be taken in the design for the reaction wheels not to fight the magnetic orientation.

Stratosphere Flier Takes Shape

Stratosphere Drone

First, an apology. We have been too busy to post too much. Life gets busy. This update may surprise a few of you as it is a massive project and it will take millions of dollars to complete, but tests have begun and a Joint Venture with a Sydney University is in the wind. I was there 2 days ago working on our first dedicated test flight using a super pressure balloon and flying the unit to the stratosphere. hovering for a while and then descending back to earth. It all costs money and we are looking for a sponsor of course. The concept and initial designs are also in front of the Australian Air Force as this will be an obvious watch dog for anything from battle fields to border protection. Drones with wings are used at the moment and they are hugely expensive. This will be a fraction of the price of operation and initial cost.

We have nicknamed it a StratoDrone for obvious reasons – it lives in or just below the Stratosphere. We need to finalise the image before we get ahead of the objectives, but it will look something like the image here. This is drone is not space, but the opportunities for space research are enormous. As we at ThunderStruck Aerospace (our commercial business)  begin the long task of produce our own our StratoDrone, we start with a shape and test it on the PC and in any wind tunnels that we can use., it takes shape, morphing slightly as we test the drag and flight parameters. This image is the first pass. It is way to big in the tail and there needs to be a better tapper along its length. The tail fins need to be about 1/4 the size. There is no steering on the fins although I am considering a gimballed set of rotors on the very rear. This would have to be a sunset image with the light so low. The StratoDrone will sit on station at 20Km or higher or lower depending on winds.. The instrument Nacelle will be slung under the forward ring and is not shown at this angle. The StratoDrone is expected to revolutionise communications / radar and observation, bush fire fighting and almost anything. A stunning video of its operations and capability will be available soon. This is a sample photo only and not the final product.

StratoDrone in flight headed to the Stratosphere

The Stratosphere or Bust:

This was posted on Facebook and the comments were:

Comments were:

Robert Brand: Hey, John, we are starting on our StratoDrone. it is not for people, but equipment that can stay stationary in the sky – “on station” for months at a time, or cruise the coast for erosion, illegal fishing or whatever. The cost curve to operate is way under commercial drones and the ability to stay in one place a real opportunity for telecommunications. It is not space, but the future is one step closer. By the way, the gap between the troposphere and the Stratosphere is called the Tropopause. We live in the troposphere and so do the jet streams. The Stratosphere starts at about 16Km to 20Km (10 miles to 12.5 miles) altitude depending on your location, season and more.

Victor: Wow !!! I have been looking for a static drone for 30 years ! My dreams come true ! ya I know a blimp is great! Any Facebook page for it ?

Robert Brand: In case anyone thinks that this platform is not a massive benefit to space, let me suggest 2 uses to start the ball rolling.

1/. Stable telescope platforms
2/. Comms downlinks with massive coverage

Telescopes – Imagine being able to launch a 100Kg telescope to close to 30Km altitude and only have 1% of the atmosphere above you. Without the earth’s atmosphere to interfere with observations,you might as well have a telescope in orbit only this one you can bring back down and swap out the payload the next day and relaunch. The opportunity for space research will take on a whole new meaning with short low cost refits and redeploys within a day. Somewhat a cross between NASA’s Sofia aircraft and a low orbiting spacecraft. Other sensors can be fitted without having to wait for a launch of a spacecraft.

Communications – Unlike ground based radios, that can only see a spacecraft from horizon to horizon with all sorts of caveats such as mountains that may block the signal, thick atmospheric issues that will attenuate the signal, being 20Km to 30Km up, a passing spacecraft will have a good and clear signal available for a much longer time in a pass. The footprint to communicate with passing craft and the signal strength necessary will improve greatly. In other words, it will have acquisition for much longer and accept much lower power levels. This makes it an ideal platform for a whole range of things, but especially as a downlink for small spacecraft such as cubesats. Uplinks are usually not an issue as the ground can increase its power levels to make comms easy. The StratoDrone however will be able to see further than ground based systems, thus increase the number of viable passes possible.

These machines may replace many spacecraft functions, but mainly to free them up for other projects. The most congested radio frequencies are for geostationary spacecraft at 36,000Km altitude. With this technology, we are effectively a geostationary object at 20Km altitude. The possibilities are endless and the emergency facilities is can provide when ground based infrastructure has been destroyed is phenomenal. Once these machines are fully operational, they will be here to stay..

There is no page yet, but I will be posting an update here soon.

http://thunderstruck.space/

Steven: Very interesting Robert. What is the payload mass for your balloon? How do you deal with the problem of high altitude wind?

Robert Brand: We sit at the transition between the stratosphere and troposphere. The winds are minimal in the tropopause. The occasional reversal of winds creates an issue. This does not happen between the tropics so it is best use is southern parts of the US and northern parts of Australia or in most of the worlds trouble zones. Payload mass maybe 100 to 200 kg. Maybe much more depending on the final size of the machine and the maximum altitude.

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.

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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.


CLICK HERE FOR 20% DISCOUNT: www.ticketek.com.au/mars20

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Mars Live Tour Dates:
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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
Morocco Mars SIM testing Methane detectors

What is Mars Median – FAQs

Morocco Mars Median SIM testing Methane detectors What, Why, How of Mars Median

Mars Median by Robert Brand       I wrote Wotzup to let people experience some fun space projects to do with space or even in space with basic opportunity like the ISS EarthKam. The Mars Median project is without doubt a major Mars mission that I was not expecting to ever discuss on these pages. I am excited to be able to bring you one of the most amazing personal adventures ever – the chance to let you share an incredible journey to Mars and the chance to bring you my personal experiences as we go forward to explore the red planet. To this end, we may have to delay or cancel other projects that we growing, but that is the nature of having limited time to do everything. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be the architect of a Mars mission and it happened all by a chance meeting with a couple of UK team members and myself in the US

What is Mars Median?

MEDIAN – Methane Detection by In-Situ Analysis with NanoLanders

A network of Methane detectors and wind direction sensors that can detect methane and as the wind changes and the methane covers different sensors over time, the source of the vent can be triangulated. The Mars Median network will be a 10 to 20Km ring with each node also being able to send its results to other nodes and eventually to a Mars rover or relay to a spacecraft and back to earth. The methane detection is for both biological or none biological sources. The rover will locate the vent and test for the origins of the methane. If a biological source, it will tell us that life exists or once existed on Mars. It is the project of a UK team and it not tied to any Space Agency or company.

Why?

The search for life outside of the Earth. Methane from biological sources is the goal. Mars Median cannot tell the difference, but a rover can. We would be looking to fly with a rover landing close by.

How did I get Involved?

Nick Howes

Nick Howes and Mars MedianI met Nick at Spacefest in 2012 when I was new to the whole event. I had been asked to speak on the work I was doing to engage everyday people in space. At this stage I was not actually looking at any work in Aerospace Engineering and it was his next question that dragged me into engineering. Nick told me about this incredibly important project called Median and he had asked experts how to land a payload of 10 to 20 nodes in a network across a wide area on Mars – not just a single spot. He said that he had been asking experts from all over the world and everyone had said it was impossible with today’s technology. My initial thoughts included balloon technology, but I had other systems in mind and told him it was 100% doable. Nick has been a real power house keeping Median going until it was almost an essential part of any Mars mission that involved rovers.

The Median Proposal had to be in within 2 weeks and was then the work of Jane MacArthur. She was also at Spacefest and was nervous about whether she would be able to make it happen. I remember sitting down on the last day of Spacefest and telling her she could do it and how important it was.

The proposal has to be submitted within 2 weeks. They had a lot of missing parts to their project. I had to come up with solutions to the following: the deployment of the probes from a canister on the back-shell, the braking in the atmosphere, the landing, the comms between the probes and the spacial awareness of the probes. orientation of the probes on the surface and the precise location of the probes. Finally transmitting the data from the probes to the new rover.

Jane MacArthur

Jane MacArthur and Robert Brand discuss Mars MedianHere is my response back in 2012:

“I may do little else that come up with ideas or I might look after all of these solutions. If i did, it would be a major part of the overall project so that is not likely. The answer was yes. I had solutions within the hour and even better ones by the next morning. All I can say is that the project is now doable. The solutions that are there at the moment may be thrown out in light of better ones, but it gives the project a serious green light at this time. There will be many years of developing even better solutions, but for now it is just a green light for the proposal and I will wait and see if they get to go forward before I do anything.  It is just the fact that they came and asked that I find amazingly refreshing. If it never goes forward, it has still changed my world forever.”

Jane went away and completed the submission in time and then completed the construction of the test detectors ready for testing in the Moroccan desert at a Mars SIM event. The picture at top left is a volunteer deploying a very close test of the detectors to see if the concept was sound.

I never found out about the test results, but you can read about Mars Median on Page 24 of the Moroccan SIM outline – Page 24. There are a wide range of experiments that you can also read about.

http://www.planete-mars.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Dossier-de-presse-en-anglais.pdf

My Facebook post of this picture of Jane says:

“Before I depart [Spacefest], here is a picture of the lovely Jane MacArthur who made me an offer that I couldn’t refuse. A trip to Mars of course – well at least as part of a team doing a science experiment – if our proposal gets through! None the less – I am hooked. It is doable and I hope that it gets the green light for 2022. Jane you have rocked my trip to Spacefest in a great way!”

That was the last I heard from the 2013 tests until this week October 2016. All of a sudden, the Mars Median project is in full swing and progressed from basic concept to a fully funded project and testing here in Australia of the deployment system in march / April 2017. Initial expectations of being deployed with ESA’s rover in 2020 sank with the crash of their lander a week before this post.

I have met Jane since at a London Space Conference and she has become an amazing space scientist and has traveled to the most amazing places as part of her space work. I cannot tell you how jealous I am of her experiences in this regard.

Initial Tests:

Read the linked document above for how the tests were conducted and as we now know, they were a success.

Phase 2. All Hands to the Pump:

Nick contacted a few days ago on Social Media and publicly stated – your landing proposal utilising impactors and the communications and mapping system has been accepted “Lock, Stock [and Barrel]”

The testing is being fast tracked for March/April 2017 here in Australia and I am heading that up – plus the comms and mapping work. I have already contacted CASA and discussed the opportunity to test with restricted air space and it is all doable.

The University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN) is running the Mars Median mission and building the impactors. The timeline at time of printing  indicated:

“Timeline is that the aerodynamic modeling is ongoing NOW, using ANSIS.. that will feed into final design then build. Initial high velocity gun testing possibly in the UK and possibly some shake and bake testing at Goddard, then thinking about March/April 2017 getting prototypes over to you (Robert Brand) with the release mechanism to do drop tests. Internals will be Arduino style systems (maybe PI’s ) with test rigs in place”.

It looks like locating the Mars Median Project on the heat shield of another another mission is an easier and a safer bet than the backshell, so we will test this concept early next year.

More on Mars Median shortly. Please feel free to ask questions.

Look Out Mars, The Aussies are Coming – Median

kangaroo-red-earthMedian Mars Mission for Aussie Designer.

By Robert Brand

Well it looks like Mars, but the Australian red earth is a bit of a Mars analogue. Maybe one day we will settle kangaroos there, given their ability to survive in places with no topsoil. A bit of terra-forming and we can raise the Australian flag. Well why wait until then. The Mars Median mission is happening.

As many of you will know I am an Australian living in Sydney and I entered the Aerospace Engineering sector 5 years ago at the age of 59 without any formal training or a degree. I am now 64 and I am the architect of the mission engineering for a project headed to Mars called “Median”. Yep, we are now working to build prototypes testing them, and fly them to Mars to form a ring of nodes that will talk to each other and relay the data. The essential part is the search for and triangulation of methane vents. The project is funded and phase 2 is well underway.

Australian flagSo how did this Australian end up with this once in a lifetime opportunity? A lot of lateral thinking and ensuring I was in the right place at the right time – Spacefest V in 2013. A glorious meeting of space people with a core group with the attitude of “let’s make it happen”. This was the year that I met Nick Howes from the UK. Nick was involved with Median before the first tests. He had been working with experts who told him that it was impossible to land 10-20 nodes on Mars with today’s technology and keep it as a small secondary mission. Then he asked me.

Within an hour I had a plan to use helium cone shaped balloons to slow the decent. The volume of the helium needed worried, The deployment from the backshell or the heat shield of a major mission was simple and but the balloon part was dead wrong. I started to reduce the size of any air braking until I realised that we could that a bunch of spears or penetrators could actually carry a payload that survives the impact onto Mars. Sure, you need to have crumple zones in the penetrators and you need suspension for the payload, but it was doable and it was survivable. It has been some years since I put forward my proposal, but two days ago Nick messaged me on my Facebook page. The UK group, now entering the second test phase said that they had accepted all on my design points – lock, stock and….. and that we were on a short fuse to get ready for a flight to Mars. This opportunity has never happened before regarding Mars – the closest I can remember someone was Adjunct Professor Brian J. O’Brien who amazingly did the Moon Dust sensors on several of the Apollo flights. His story is a classic, but he was already well accepted into the world of space + a couple of degrees I expect. Another amazing Australian is Warwick Holmes. He was a major engineering influence for the Rosetta mission and the landing of a probe on a comet. So much work and so much knowledge and experience. I expect that my work is much simpler than his, but I revel in the fact that I designed the whole Median system other than the methane detectors. In fact I spent 1.5 hours on the phone chatting on the phone today with Warwick about the things happening in the space sector here in Australia. I look forward to meeting with Warwick in the very near future.

So let’s step back a bit. After the 2013 Spacefest meeting where I also met Jane MacArthur, I was uncertain whether Jane would have enough time to further the Median project. I remember sitting down with her and telling her the importance of finding the methane vents so a rover could go over and determine whether they were from biological sources. Jane was amazing. During her super busy life trying to make a living, her studies and a lot of other things she built and organised some test units to work with a methane source.

Read about that trip here: It was done in Morocco in a North African Mars Simulation. Although the testing could have been done anywhere, this was a great opportunity to combine another science experiment with the Median. Here is the outline of the experiment on Page 24, but you can read up on the SIM mission and the other experiments that they conducted:

http://www.planete-mars.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Dossier-de-presse-en-anglais.pdf

The results were good and after several years of looking for funding UCLAN in the UK is not readying for flight – well within the next 8 years, but you have to be ready years before that. UCLAN (University of Central Lancashire – UK) is the lead – I will act as test officer and advisor for several parts of the project. As I indicated in my early proposal for the Median project, we tried for a soft landing for each node, but the volume of helium or hydrogen was a problem with the containment cylinder being a massive problem. The second proposal was absolute. This was the only way to land – with a ground penetrating rod or ‘penetrator”.

As the architect of the Mars landing and deployment system, the self mapping system and the general communications system, I take great pride in that it is going to the next phase of build and test and is fully funded. It was hoped that the ESA 2020 rover may have been able to work with the deployment of the Median Network, but recent issues with ESA’s lander crashing on Mars has left that in doubt and the possibility of working with the NASA 2024 rover seems most likely. In the picture below a volunteer in a Morocco Mars SIM deploys the Methane test units designed by Jane MacArthur. This was a few years back. These missions take a lot of work and time if they are to gain credibility and funding. I will also be doing testing in a remote part of Australia, dropping the heat shield mock-up and watching the penetrators deploy, testing the comms links and designing additional uses for this wide area network of 10-20Km in diameter.

mars-median-phase-1-testing

The UK team says: Timeline is that the aerodynamic modeling is ongoing NOW, using ANSIS.. that will feed into final design then build. Initial high velocity gun testing possibly in the UK and possibly some shake and bake testing at Goddard, then thinking about March/April 2017 getting prototypes over to you (Robert Brand) with the release mechanism to do drop tests. Internals will be Arduino style systems (maybe PI’s ) with test rigs in place.

Below is an early sketch of the deployment system in the back-plane of a space capsule with a speed breaking parachute. The same technology can sit within the heat shield, just reversed. Ignore the reference to 1.6km as we are now after a much bigger ring of nodes. Probably they will fire off at 8km altitude.median-deployment-system
The spike below will also have a crumple zone and more suppression for delicate parts in the payload. It is only a rough sketch for better understanding.


penetrator-design

Save on Low Cost Payloads to the Stratosphere

Save with payloads to the StratosphereOFFER EXTENDED TO 21 Nov 2016

Save A$1,100 on Sending Payloads to the Stratosphere.

We are trying to fill our calendar with low cost flights to the Stratosphere so you save A$1,100 min each flight. Our minimum price is usually $3,000 carried out by the world’s most successful team. 28 flights to date.

Our flights are conducted in Australia but you don’t have to live here to have us fly your payload.

Save: Save with the most consistent team on the planet.bookings can be up to 12 months in advance, but the promotion is only valid for 2 weeks and expires on:

Midnight the 21st Nov 2016.

Book a flight for your payload and then, when we give you a price, claim and save with your discount of $1,100. This way you know that we are giving you the real deal. All deposits must be made by 22nd Nov 2016 over the counter and as usual are not refundable. We immediately order gas, book travel, accommodation and register the flight with CASA, Rex Airlines, QantasLink and others. In other words, it compensates for work and other material bought or held aside for your flight.

Commercial work starting from A $1,900

Book and save in the next 2 weeks and we will cut the basic price to $1,900. We still require $1,500 up front for the balloon, gas, labour and other costs before the flight, but you would be getting the world’s best high altitude team. After 28 flights in Croatia and Australia, HABworx has recovered all payloads

We have been helping others make the most incredible flights for amazing reasons. There are always cameras, but our customers have their own requirements. We have had signage change during flight; we have taken up 360 degree immersive video cameras, radio systems; sensors and musical noise makers.

UpLift-19 Space ChickenWe have flown payloads for :

  • Bulla Cloud9 Yogurt online advertising
  • Several record launches
  • Conservation (Karl the Cassowary)
  • Art (Sounds in the Stratosphere)
  • Science competition (20 experiments flown in Croatia)
  • Science Week education – Albury lectures tracking a live flight
  • Product launches
  • Sydney University – Science
  • Toyota Team Bonding.
Balloon Burst4 seconds after the event - UpLift-19

Balloon Burst 4 seconds after the event – UpLift-19

What you get:

  • The most consistent team on the planet – with a 100% recovery success with 28 payloads released (at time of publication).
  • Released 2 flights in Croatia
  • Working with Murdoch University and a UK University for 2 separate Mars missions that will require precision balloon flights.
  • The experience of 28 flights under our belts.
  • Difficult projects that require old and new logo reveals, multiple cameras and 360 degree photography.
  • Ground photography of the release site and in vehicle photography of the chase.
  • Drone photography of the release site.
  • We will even wear special suits and tee shirts for the project.
  • Save $1,100 per flight.

Listen to what a difference a high altitude balloon campaign can make.

Hear and see more directly from the customer!:

Below is one the individual flights.

That was me (Robert Brand – the head of HABworx) in the closing scenes picking up the payload. It was definitely frozen! We limited the height of payloads by the size of the balloon fill. This ensured that they would come down before warming in the stratosphere. There were 41 people involved for 2 days in central NSW. The projects can be big or small – it is up to you.

Contact: contact @ projectthunderstruck . com   —  remove the spaces!

Save by using a small team. The locals always take an interest.We will give you a price for your project that will make it a reality!

The price of $1,900 would be a single flight in central NSW with 2 to 3 cameras (yours!) to usually above 30Km. We provide the tracking and everything else for the flight. You can even  track the flight from your armchair at home – or come with us for the adventure of releasing the balloon and tracking the payload to a field and recovering the payload!

Email me with your flight request and finalise payment within 2 days and let us send your payload to the Stratosphere.

A Guide to Prices and How to Save

  • Basic Price $3,000: We fly your payload with our trackers – Up to 4Kg – 2.5Kg will usually get to 30Km altitude or more). We travel 6 hours drive to West Wyalong on day 1, fill and release early on day 2; recover the payload and return home on day 2
  • $1,000 for additional per day for any customer reason (excluding second balloon flight).
  • $2,000 for additional balloon flight and recovery on the following day
  • $2,000 for a second tracking team for their first flight
  • $1,000 for a second tracking team for additional flights
  • $2,000 for us to build the payload and provide cameras (GoPros) for any flights with small mascots or logos – excluding new logo reveals.
  • $1,000 for a reveal mechanism – pulls the old logo away and reveals the new logo.
  • Other work will need to be discussed and quoted.
UpLift-28 Released. Our latest flight. The customers will tell you that we saved them a lot of money compared to doing it themselves.

UpLift-28 Our latest flight. The customers will tell you that we saved them a lot of money compared to doing it themselves.

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.

Comments

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.

Reading

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.

http://www.spacetoday.org/Rockets/Spaceports/Australia.html

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

http://members.optusnet.com.au/virgothomas/space/spaceport.html#History

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 (https://www.wolframalpha.com) 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:

http://www.barc.asn.au/

Want the full story?:

http://www.barc.asn.au/habe.html

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:

http://www.haineshinterding.net/category/haines/

http://www.haineshinterding.net/category/hinterding/

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: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypergolic_propellant

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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