Seeing my First Rocket Launch

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

ULA Atlas V Launch – June 24th 2016

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

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Our Growing Tracking Ability

Our Pajero Tracking VehicleJan 2016

Pajero Tracking Vehicle Update

So lets look at what my son, Jason (14), and I have done and are doing about our tracking vehicle. We will have more, but we are planning on at least having our 4WD SUV ready for anything that is headed our way, but tracking is all important. Note that this tracking article appeared on our Project ThunderStruck website some months ago. read more

Lots of Balloon Flights

LaunchA-3Space Rich, Time Poor

It has been too long since we posted about our activities in space. I apologise. We have been so busy and time to do “things” has been scarce. Website updates have stopped for some time. None the less we have still been doing balloon flights. Yes, that is my son Jason (14) and me releasing the first balloon flight in this set. (image right)

We did 4 flights recently in Australia: UpLift-24 to UpLift-27. The project is under commercial wraps for the moment but I can say that it was a  set of weather balloon flights for a big company. They were for their internal restructuring and next few years of corporate direction. Because of the importance of the project, we had several camera including a 360 degree x 240 degrees video camera. We will have the entire 360 degree video available once the company concerned uses it internally.These snaps are from that camera The camera uses a fish eye lens and the software allows the image to decompress and normalise the view. This means that you can, with your PC or smart phone, that you can look around the image. Look in front, look down, look left, right or rear. It is like sitting in a bubble under the payload and balloon.

So I have taken 5 frames from the video and looked around the frame in 4 different directions. Because it is an extremely wide angle lens, the images closest are very big. Jason thus looks very big compared to me in the above image. None the less, there will be nothing but a few clouds near the camera once we leave the ground. Here are 4 images from each frame. The town is Rankins Springs in NSW, Australia. Balloon Central in Australia.

The Balloon Release:

LaunchA-3   LaunchA-2

LaunchA-1   LaunchA-4

10 Metres off the Ground:

LaunchB-4   LaunchB-3

LaunchB-1   LaunchB-2

60 Metres off the Ground

LaunchC-4   LaunchC-3

LaunchC-2   LaunchC-1

The Balloon Above the Clouds

3km-4   3km-3

3km-2   3km-1

The Balloon in the Stratosphere:

Max-4   Max-3

Max-2   Max-1

You can click on each of the images for a full screen view. As I said, these are clips from a single frame from a video. We will soon be able to show you the full 360 degree fully immersible video. You can even use a VR headset or google Cardboard. Please enjoy these images for the moment.

No, we are not being obsessive about dust – it was for the video for the company. It will be magnificent. We had cameras mounted on the tracking vehicle looking forward and back to the windscreen. There was even a drone following the launch and above the tracking vehicle traveling down the highway and down dirt roads. More on these videos as soon as we can release the videos.

Oh yeh – We still have 100% recovery rate – 27 flights and 27 recoveries. There were night recoveries with this one. Two were in the dark! A first for us.

Australian Weather Balloon Sales

Totex 100 gram Red BalloonWeather Balloon Sales Opening Soon in Australia.

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

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

Right now I have ample stock of 100 gram Totex Red Balloons ($20 each),Postage is $15 for each 4 balloons delivered in Australia +GST

In 4 weeks, we take delivery of many boxes of brand new Totex weather balloons. If you want an Australian source of weather balloons in small quantities, we are now taking pre-orders for the balloons.Do not wait until they arrive as some sizes may be sold out.

On aIMG_5039bout 24th May 2015 we should have the following beige weather balloons in stock:
500 gram $80 + $20 Australian delivery + GST
800 gram $120 + $20 Australian delivery + GST
1,500 gram $190 + $30 Australian delivery + GST

All brand new Totex. Our new shop will be:

http://habworx.com

Overseas orders are exempt from GST, but will have an additional handling fee and a higher delivery fee. No details yet as I am focusing on the Australian market. If you have a need for bigger quantities than 3, we can start to discount. We have great prices for orders of 12 with 4 weeks lead time.

Call 0448881101 for details

I also have 2 x 3kg weather balloons. These 3Kg balloons are well over their expiry date (maybe about 3 years old – good for displays ($150 each). If you want any of these you will need to contact me on 0448 881 101.

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

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

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

At this stage, payment will be via a bank deposit. If you wish to chose PayPal, we will need to charge extra for the sees that they extract! Please call 0448 881 101 for sales. It is essential that you leave a 10 second message with “balloons” as the first word.

We will soon be able to RENT:  Helium bottles, (E), regulators, tracking systems including HAM radio APRS transmitters, HAM radio APRS enables handhelds, Filling tubes, Cable ties, hose, bubble wrap, tapes and much more mostly for pickup from Sydney. Shipping can be arranged, but not for the gas bottles.

Totex 100 gram Red Weather Balloon Box

CAD composite ThunderStruck Images

ThunderStruck image by Ben Hockley. Cloud and Sky by NASA taken from the ISS.

ThunderStruck image by Ben Hockley. Cloud and Sky by NASA taken from the ISS.

ThunderStruck Images and Animation.

It has been a long time coming as there are only so many hours in the day. The images and our ability to do 3D renditions and even 3D printing is courtesy of Ben Hockley from Brisbane, Australia.

Ben has created this fantastic image of the Phase one Thunderstruck craft. It is pictured just after going subsonic and making the transition to horizontal flight. At this point it will be slowing to about 500kph and is about to slowly deploy the canards. These are little wings at the front of the craft. Unlike the wings, the canards will have lift and will be set to work with a nose down angle of about 10 degrees. Tests will determine whether we will need to change the angle for landing or whether the canards will remain in line with the fuselage at all times during the flight. I suspect the later will be the correct arrangement and much easier to build, but testing is always required.

Thunderstruck1Why not a slender body? Simply we will achieve supersonic speeds due to lack of air. Well very “thin” air. A tiny fraction of 1% at sea level. Drag is not the issue here until we are in level subsonic flight. There we will be taking a step glide path anyway as there is no lift in the wings. I will be happy with a 10 to 1 glide slope. We lose a metre for every 10m flown. The drag on the body will not be the greatest issue and I would like the body big enough to add the Patch antennas. They stick on the outside of the craft and I will want that to be on top of the body and under the body so that there is signal no mater what the orientation of the craft. The added benefit is that we have plenty of room to work on the electronics, servos and other gadgets that need to move within the body of the craft. The diameter of the craft at full scale will be about 600mm in diameter. This may change with flight testing, but we are now in the final stages of the paper design and the engineering of the mechanical components will all fit comfortably in this size craft.

Thunderstruck_drawing

The drawings were done with Solidworks and you can, if you are a student, pick up a copy for US$150 and since this is Jason’s project and he is a year 8 student, he qualifies. The images at right are the craft’s plans and the top right shows a view of the craft, including the lines differentiating the sections used to create the fuselage. ie the nose cone joins the first half of the fuselage. These lines are removed for rendering a coloured and textured model as seen in the top image.

Although we do not yet have animation of the flight, it can now be produced with the 3D files that come from the rendering process. These are STL files and moving the background and the view of the craft (angle of attack), vibration, etc, can give the required feel of flight. The files will be sent to an animator to see if this can easily be achieved. If yes, we hope to have the animation ready to show you and also use it in the ever so essential crowd funding video. The three images above are shown below. All are courtesy of Ben Hockley and the picture with clouds in the background is courtesy of NASA and taken from the International Space Station (ISS). Ben thanks again for these fantastic ThunderStruck images.

Thunderstruck Phase One Craft in Flight

Thunderstruck Phase One Craft in Flight. Credit Ben Hockley (ThunderStruck) and NASA ISS (clouds and Moon)

A plain rendered view of ThunderStruck Phase One with shadow

A plain rendered view of ThunderStruck Phase One with shadow. Credit Ben Hockley

Thunderstruck plans

Thunderstruck plans. Credit Ben Hockley

Unveiling Phase 1 ThunderStruck Design

ThunderStruck Design and 1-2 size measurementsThunderStruck Transonic Test Design

In the first phase testing of our ThunderStruck spacecraft, we want to go fast so that we can test some “drag” experiments. As such, the airframe proposed looks nothing like what our spacecraft design will probably resemble. After all we wish to slow down returning from space, not speed up.

Below are the design shapes and dimensions for a 1/2 size model of our flight aircraft. Why 1/2 scale? Simply, a full scale mockup would be too big to fit into my car!

After looking at the figures our modeller has recommended that we actually use a 1/3 size model as the 1/2 scale model is too big to fit his lathe! We will talk about the design in another post. I just wanted interested people to have a look at the craft ASAP.

The final craft may have a supersonic spike that will double as a VHF antenna, but it will not need a spike. The wheels will have brakes to stop them spinning during flight. There is a lot to do yet, but we are enjoying the challenges. Note that we may tweak the design further plus I have not included the canards for subsonic flight. They will deploy slowly as we slow the craft. They will not deploy until the craft is subsonic.

ThunderStruck Design and 1-2 size measurements

Above are the dimensions for a 1/2 size ThunderStruck airframe.

 

Equipping our Tracking Vehicle

Pajero Centre ConsoleTracking Equipment and Mobile Technology

One of our big issues when working with balloons and supersonic gliders is that they never stay still. Even our balloon flights have reached an astonishing 230kph over land by simply climbing through the jet stream. Simply, the car can’t keep up. Even if we could travel at such mind-blowing speeds, we could never follow the same path and have to stick to roads that cris-cross the landscape and never in an easy route across country. Mind you a recent flight did travel straight along the Mid Western Highway and have the courtesy to land within a few hundred metres of the main road in sheep grazing paddock. – no crops and no trees.

Simply we need to have not just good tracking, but great tracking. That is where the car needs to be able to cater for several technologies and that means radio and wireless data connections. Our car has just this capability and we need more. We have chosen a Pajero 4WD as we will need some rugged ability for off road work. In the past we have had to drive right through a 200m bit of forest without any road or fields that may have had animal burrows. over logs, through streams and much, much more. The Mitsubishi Pajero Escape is an older model, but still good and we have used it for balloon flight tracking in the past.

In Australia, the most common tracking for High Altitude Balloons (HAB) is via either HAM radio APRS for non commercial activities and RTTY on UHF for commercial activities.

Our Kenwood D710 radio sits on the central part of our dashboard in the car - easily able to display where we have to head.

Our Kenwood D710 radio sits on the central part of our dashboard in the car – easily able to display where we have to head.

Ham Radio APRS

APRS stands for Automatic Packet Reporting System and is a digital communications information channel that is capable of handling information such as GPS (Global Positioning System) data. This is ideal for tracking balloons. Ham radio hobbyists simply build receivers and port the data to a central server. Several receivers may pick up the signal and port the data which i recorded in the database. In our case every 20 seconds. The frequency of the reporting interval is important as the payload gets near the ground so that the radio can easily be located. In some areas there are no receivers and internet connections – known as iGates. Care needs to be taken, but the solution is to have a mobile iGate in the car if there is good mobile wireless coverage in the area. We are preparing to have a mobile iGate in the tracking vehicle. Until then we have a high power APRS repeater. It receives the data and resends it to an iGate that is in range. Occasionally this is in another of our tracking vehicles and the ability to relay is important. If you want the full details, you need Internet connectivity in your vehicle, either through a tablet or PC.

UHF RTTY

In Australia, it is illegal to use APRS to track commercial flights. We have to use something like the globally accepted UHF RTTY system. RTTY in Australia can be on multiple channels on 434MHz. and can only be 10mW of power. This is fine if you have height and can track to the ground. As with APRS, you need to be nearby when the unit is near the ground or the curve of the earth will cause the signal to be lost possibly 1Km above the ground. on a windy day this can lead to a big search area. Similar to APRS, there are many people that place a UHF RTTY gateway in their vehicle and gate the data to an internet server. If you want the full details from the server, you need Internet connectivity in your vehicle, either through a tablet or PC.

What is Installed in the Vehicle So Far?

Let’s do a list of the basics:

  • A Kenwood D710 APRS capable transceiver (VHF/UHF) with tracking display and GPS integration
  • An Icom IC-7000 all band HF/VHF/UHF transceiver that is RTTY capable (but does not display tracking)
  • An 80 channel CB radio on UHF (in case we have a non ham radio car in the group
  • A Byonics MT-400 10W APRS Beacon
  • A wireless mobile modem with a wired and WiFi router (so to have an external antenna) runs of 12 volts
  • A motorised antenna raiser – the big antenna hides in front of the roof rack and is near invisible.
  • A multi-socket cigarette lighter system for power for many items

What we need to be installed

Let’s do a list of the basics:

  • HF radio antenna (we have the Icom -700 HF radio side hooked into a 100w termination for safety)
  • An auto-tune system for the HF radio
  • Another big VHF/UHF antenna with a motorised lifter.
  • 2 x 900MHz antennas
  • A 900Mhz antenna for 56Kb modem access to the balloon and ThunderStruck systems
  • Radio Controller as used for flying model aircraft
  • A video downlink on a band to be decided.
  • A visor and screen display for the video from the balloon payload and ThunderStruck aircraft.

So we are already halfway there, but still have a long way to go and need your help with funding. More on that soon. It is clear that we have a lot of this gear tested and bedded down and that is a good thing. Part of my requirements with this vehicle is to make it inconspicuous. Being old is a start. Hiding all the antennas is another. One antenna is super thin and near invisible, another is very short and the last folds down in line with the roof rack. The photos below show the antenna folded down and raised.

Antenna folded down

Antenna folded down

Antenna being raised

Antenna being raised

Antenna fully raised

Antenna fully raised

The fully raised antenna

The fully raised antenna

The antenna can be raised when driving and it lets us enter car parks without a second thought. We have a switch on the centre console, but i am thinking of adding a proximity alarm in case we forget that it is up. That is the switch to the right of the cigarette lighter. Sorry for the debris under the switch. We had just finished installing the Icom IC-7000 above it.

Centre console antenna switch

Centre console antenna switch

The passenger's side of the centre console with the CB radio and the 3 socket cigarette lighter extension unit

The passenger’s side of the centre console with the CB radio and the 3 socket cigarette lighter extension unit

The 10W APRS unit with the GPS receiver to the left of the transmitter

APRS 10W tracker with the GPS receiver to the left of the transmitter

In the picture above, we could have mounted the unit under the dashboard, but it is a little more versatile being accessible. I also took the opportunity to hard wire the GPS Navigation unit directly to the car wiring. Since the 12 volt plug has the 5V system, we ensured that the charge unit from the plug was in circuit.

The IC-7000 in RTTY mode

The IC-7000 in RTTY mode

Note that I did not change the frequency to 434.650MHz or similar frequency where RTTY resides. I just wanted to show the fact that it does RTTY. The output at the back of the radio connects to an interface box and can then connect to your PC.

Pajero Centre Console with the Kenwood D710 on the top and the IC-7000 at the bottom of the console.

Pajero Centre Console with the Kenwood D710 on the top and the IC-7000 at the bottom of the console.

Note that the IC-7000 display is only a front screen. There is a cable to the base unit under the driver’s seat. it is wired so that the microphone and front screen can be moved to the rear seat so that an operator in the rear of the car can operate the unit. Similarly the base unit for the Kenwood is also under the drivers seat.

Kenwood D710 display  on the centre of the dashboard

Kenwood D710 display on the centre of the dashboard

Note that the unit above has its GPS hard wired. Like the IC-7000, it is a dual VFO. Only the B VFO is displayed above, but you can operate the VFOs on different bands or channels. It is very versatile.

Our Kenwood D710 radio sits on the central part of our dashboard in the car - easily able to display where we have to head.

Our Kenwood D710 radio sits on the central part of our dashboard in the car – easily able to display where we have to head.

The image above is displaying the rough compass direction to the station displayed. It shows an actual bearing (325 degrees) to the target and there is also a distance in 100m increments. Since the beacon was very close, it shows 0.0Km. A second display shows position altitude and speed.

Mobile Wireless modem, router and WiFi hotspot.

Mobile Wireless modem, router and WiFi hotspot.

Finally the above shows our mobile hotspot unit. It still needs its external antenna for really good mobile coverage, so it is temporary. It uses the rear 12 volt outlet next to the torch (bottom left) for power and once the antenna is installed, the modem will not be on the cable, but plugged directly into the TP-Link unit. We also have 4 hard wired network connections for future units such as the mobile iGate.

Also note that there are two other trackers on board that I will not disclose. It has significant anti-theft devices and tracking, so don’t come after this car. it might just get you caught.

Anyway, we are halfway there for Project ThunderStruck. We are extremely ready for any High Altitude Balloon flight.

Placing a Cutdown on a Balloon (HAB)

Todd hamson directional antenna foxhuntingPlacing a Cutdown Below the Parachute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cutdown for HAB

Adding a Cutdown to HABs

Cutdown for HABCutdown System – Over the Counter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

——————————————

ThunderStruck verticalFinalising ThunderStruck’s Radio Links

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

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

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

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

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

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

Control System

Control-System

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

——————————————

So Back to Balloons

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

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

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

From the RFDesign Website:

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

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

Interfaces:

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

Specifications:

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

Software / GCS Support:

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

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

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

Super Sale – 48 Hours only

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

Live in Australia?

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

Sale Ends Wednesday 19th Nov 2015 at 4pm

Learn to Launch and Recover HABs

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

Balloons for Sale

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

Helium

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

Radios, GPS, Cameras

The HAM radio equipment includes:

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

Send your Mascot or Sign to Near Space?

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

Payment

Sale ends at 4pm Wednesday 19th November 2015 EDST

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

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

http://wotzup.com/feed/

News from Team Stellar – Testing

Deep Space Maneuvering Rocket Testing shows Encouraging Results

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

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

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

Mr. Uroš Kejžar

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

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

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

Vacuum chamber

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

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

TV, You Never Know When

Croatian NewspaperTV, it Happens All the Time

by Robert Brand

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below is a picture of Jason meeting Croatian President Ivo Josipović

Jason Brand Meeting the President of Croatia - President Ivo Josipović

Jason Brand Meeting the President of Croatia – President Ivo Josipović

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

 

Apollo 11 Interview in Full

Robert Brand at a recent London Space Conference

Robert Brand at a recent London Space Conference

Apollo 11 Interview – Spaceflight Magazine

by Robert Brand

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lessons from UpLift-20

Weather balloon burst

What a burst weather balloon should do! Disintegrate

UpLift-20 Lessons Learned the Hard Way

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

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

Balloon Flight with ThunderStruck

Failure One

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

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

Failure Two

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

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

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

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

The Lesson

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

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

Building a Workshop for ThunderStruck

Building the ThunderStruck Workshop3A Space Grade Workshop

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

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

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

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

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

Building the ThunderStruck Workshop

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

Building the ThunderStruck Workshop2

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

Apollo 11 Interview in Spaceflight Magazine

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

by Robert Brand

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

Spaceflight Vol 56 No 12 – December 2014

The teaser for the interview says:

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

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

A little exchange from Facebook.

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

    Nick also said:

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

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

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

UpLift-19 Video and Pictures

UpLift-19 Media and Information

This is an unedited video and still video images from a GoPro3 Black edition camera of a weather balloon payload area. It climbs to 33.333Km where the balloon bursts and the payload free-falls back for recovery. It was a commercial flight fo Clintons Toyota, Campbelltown, NSW, Australia. They also sponsored a non-commercial payload for Project ThunderStruck – our first test for the Project for a supersonic glider to break Mach 1.5 (1,800kph / 1,120mph)

http://projectthunderstruck.org

The so called Space Chicken, frame and with the parachute deployed, it reached a top speed of 400kph / 250mph. At the 12 minute 14 second mark on the video (2 hours into the flight) there is a noticeable jarring of the payload and a small pop. This is the balloon exploding. Immediately shredded balloon hits the payload as there is virtually no air to slow it. 2 seconds later, the payload tilts showing the cloud of shredded balloon About 1 minute into the free fall we reached 400kph according to the telemetry. The drag increases at lower altitudes, so the effect of the wind is worse as it descends. It then improves as the air density increases. In the seconds after release you get to glimpse the balloon shreds rocketing into the payload from the explosion and then the cloud of shredded material in the sky. About 10 seconds later there are glimpses of the blue and white parachute not doing much during the fall due to the low air resistance. The cutdown box that is placed above the parachute actually fouls the parachute slightly during the free fall before it becomes effective at slowing the payload. The fouled parachute causes spin at the faster speeds. The video finish with the payload still well above the clouds. This was UpLift-19 by Robert and Jason Brand for Clintons Toyota.

PS, notice that thin blue line in the video and the photos? That is all the atmosphere we have and that is pretty thin near the top. 72 percent of the atmosphere is below the common cruising altitude of commercial airliners (about 10,000 m or 32,800 ft)

Jason and Robert Brand setting up the cameras on UpLift-19

Jason and Robert Brand setting up the cameras on UpLift-19

 Balloon-Burst1-seconds-after-the-event-UpLift-19

Balloon-Burst1-seconds-after-the-event-UpLift-19. Those are the shreds of the balloon.

Balloon Burst3 seconds after the event - UpLift-19

Balloon Burst3 seconds after the event Note the cloud is getting smaller as the thin air slows it faster. – UpLift-19

Balloon Burst4 seconds after the event - UpLift-19

Balloon Burst4 seconds after the event – UpLift-19 – yes, that is the sun.

Balloon Burst5 seconds after the event - UpLift-19

Balloon Burst5 seconds after the event – UpLift-19

Balloon Burst6 with Parachute in view seconds after the event - UpLift-19

Balloon Burst6 with Parachute in view seconds after the event – UpLift-19

Balloon Burst7-Effects of drag are clear after only 24 seconds - UpLift-19

Balloon Burst7-Effects of drag are clear after only 24 seconds – UpLift-19

Balloon Burst8 - Speed has slowed, but drag is greater in the thickening atmosphere - UpLift-19

Balloon Burst8 – Speed has slowed, but drag is greater in the thickening atmosphere – UpLift-19

Note: The images above are from the High Definition Video, not still images. The quality of our camera work has increased dramatically with some improvements to our methodology.

Breaking Mach 1, but by How Much?

A Zero Pressure Balloon fill_2610Hitting the Mach.

by Robert Brand

The aim of Project ThunderStruck is hitting Mach 1 and a bit more for good measure. Basically breaking the sound barrier. We may reach Mach 1.5, but that will be very much related to the height we reach with the balloon and few other factors. Project ThunderStruck is about Breaking Mach 1 – anything faster is a bonus.

ThunderStruck will rise to 40Km or more for its record attempt. It will need to use a Zero Pressure Balloon capable of reaching 40Km plus carrying a payload in the region of 20Kg including cameras and electronics on the Balloon.

Thanks to http://hypertextbook.com/facts/JianHuang.shtml for the information below regarding Joe Kittinger’s Record Jump in 1960:

Captain Kittinger’s 1960 report in National Geographic said that he was in free fall from 102,800 (31.333Km) to 96,000 feet (29.26Km) and then experienced no noticeable change in acceleration for an additional 6,000 feet (1.83Km) despite having deployed his stabilization chute.

The article then goes on the mention that he achieved 9/10ths the speed of sound and continued to suggest (with maths) that he would have broken the speed of sound with an additional 1,300 m (4,200 feet) of free fall.

If we assume an average acceleration of 9.70 m/s2, it is a simple matter to determine the altitude at which a skydiver starting at 40 km would break the sound barrier.

 maths to calculate altitude at which the sound barrier is broken

That’s an altitude of about 116,000 feet or 35.36Km. So how fast might we go starting at 40km altitude?

maths to calculate the max speed from altitude

Sorry if the equations are difficult to see – that is the quality from the website.

This is nearly 200 m/s faster than the local speed of sound. At the incredible speeds we’re dealing with, air resistance can not be ignored. A maximum of Mach 1.3 seems very reasonable for a human in a pressure suit compared to the prediction of Mach 1.6.

Given that the altitude of the glider release will be 40Km or more, then a top speed of near Mach 1.5 is possible. If we go higher, then we go faster.

Why is ThunderStruck an Aircraft?

Why is it considered an aircraft if it is in free fall with little to no drag? Simply because it is designed to use the little airflow to stabilise itself. Like and aircraft at lower heights uses its control surfaces for stable flight, ThunderStruck does the same. As you might remember from the jumps in the past by Joe Kittinger and Felix Baumgartner, they had serious trouble controlling spin. ThunderStruck will use the exceedingly thin air to control the spin and other forces acting on the craft during its record breaking dive.

After the dive and breaking the sound barrier, ThunderStruck will pull out of the dive under the control of RC pilot Jason Brand (12 years old) and level off, washing off excess speed. It will then fly to the ground under manual control to land just like any other aircraft.

This piece on Felix Baumgartner from Wikipedia:

203px-Felix_Baumgartner_2013Felix Baumgartner; born 20 April 1969, is an Austrian skydiver, daredevil and BASE jumper. He set the world record for skydiving an estimated 39 kilometres (24 mi), reaching an estimated speed of 1,357.64 km/h (843.6 mph), or Mach 1.25, on 14 October 2012, and became the first person to break the sound barrier without vehicular power on his descent.

Baumgartner’s most recent project was Red Bull Stratos, in which he jumped to Earth from a helium balloon in the stratosphere on 14 October 2012. As part of this project, he set the altitude record for a manned balloon flight,[8] parachute jump from the highest altitude, and greatest free fall velocity

The launch was originally scheduled for 9 October 2012, but was aborted due to adverse weather conditions. Launch was rescheduled and the mission instead took place on 14 October 2012 when Baumgartner landed in eastern New Mexico after jumping from a world record 38,969.3 metres (127,852 feet and falling a record distance of 36,402.6 metres. On the basis of updated data, Baumgartner also set the record for the highest manned balloon flight (at the same height) and fastest speed of free fall at 1,357.64 km/h (843.6 mph), making him the first human to break the sound barrier outside a vehicle.

This piece on the Speed of Sound from Wikipedia:

The speed of sound is the distance traveled per unit of time by a sound wave propagating through an elastic medium. In dry air at 20 °C (68 °F), the speed of sound is 342 metres per second (1,122 ft/s). This is 1,233 kilometres per hour (666 kn; 766 mph), or about a kilometer in three seconds or a mile in five seconds.

The Speed of Sound changes with altitude, but surprisingly this is not due to density or pressure, but with temperature!

512px-Comparison_US_standard_atmosphere_1962.svgDensity and pressure decrease smoothly with altitude, but temperature (red) does not. The speed of sound (blue) depends only on the complicated temperature variation at altitude and can be calculated from it, since isolated density and pressure effects on sound speed cancel each other. Speed of sound increases with height in two regions of the stratosphere and thermosphere, due to heating effects in these regions.

You can click of the image  (left) to enlarge the image. For the purposes of this flight, we will be using the speed of sound at sea level.

Will there be a Sonic Boom?

Yes, but it will not likely to be heard. In fact there will be two. One as it breaks the sound barrier and goes supersonic and one again as it slows to subsonic. Givent he size of the craft and the distance and thin atmosphere, it is unlikely to be heard from the ground.

Our Aerospace Adviser Asks Questions. Project ThunderStruck

Area_rule_unifilar_drawing.svgAnswering our Adviser’s Initial Questions

Below is an exchange between our new adviser to the project (to be announced officially soon and myself (Robert Brand). Here are his initial comments and please remember that he has not seen anything yet. Our adviser is a pilot with an aerospace engineering degree.

Our Adviser  Hi Robert, Here are a few questions and thoughts.

1. Propulsion

At a first glance you may think you don’t have a propulsion problem, because the thing is falling down.
The fact is, you do. The basic forces and their components (lift, weight, thrust and drag) are always in balance as long as the aircraft is not accelerating in any axis.

This is valid the other way around as well: The aircraft will accelerate as long as the forces are not in balance.
For your case, you need to have the capability to accelerate beyond the sound barrier.

The problem is that the parasitic drag increases exponentially as you approach M=1 and because you are going at a certain angle towards the ground, a certain component of this force, or all of it if you dive vertically, adds to your lift. Once your lift becomes greater than your weight, you will start to slow down.

If this happens before M=1, you will never reach supersonic speed. If it happens after M=! you can further accelerate, because the drag drops after transonic. Transonic is the worst place to be. I order to be supersonic, you must achieve M=1 ASAP, before the air becomes dense.

If you drop from 33km, forget it, because at 30km you can already feel the effects of atmosphere.
The first thing you need to do is apply total surface design, or coke-bottling. The total surface of your craft must be consistent, so at the place where you have wings, your fuselage must be narrower. This dictates your fuselage to be in a shape of a coke bottle. This will reduce drag significantly.

Also, center of lift on the wings changes in supersonic flight and you need to cope with that. There are two strategies, variable wings or variable centre of gravity. I have a very original idea how to solve that.

2. Stability

Any object going through a fluid tends to assume a low drag position. Sometimes this low drag position means rotating and spinning.
You can solve this problem by active control (unless you have f-16 engineers on board, forget it) or aircraft design.
I would suggest delta wings, high swept. Delta wing has an inherent autostability feature and high sweep angle to reduce drag and effect of the wings.
Accept it, your aircraft can be designed either for high speeds or low speeds, unless you have flaps or variable wing geometry.

———————

My Response

I look forward to how he views this and I will report back soon. I expect that I will have allayed most of his fears:

Firstly we are already applying the constant area rule. Even the A380 has aspects of the rule in the design. I lectured at Sydney Uni on the subject only a few weeks back. I understand the rule and some other rules to do with supersonic flight, although their effects are much less than the constant area rule.

Yes, the wings may very well be more swept back than in the image on the site. We will do drop tests to a certain the best wing shape and we have access to a wind tunnel.

The wings will be symmetrical (top and bottom)– ie zero lift. They will be therefore not an issue at supersonic speeds. The elevator will provide the “lift” with speed at lower altitudes. Yes, it will land “hot” – we may use “flaperons” ie combined flaps and ailerons. It should be noted that these are less effective as ailerons when they are biased down as flaps, but they will be bigger than needed. They will be symmetrical also. Flaperons are really ailerons  that are mixed with the flaps signal on the transmitter to bias them both “on” as flaps/ The ailerons do not work with the same efficiency when they are both biased down, but they do work. We may use separate flaps, we may not use flaps. Testing will determine the stability and best options.

Below is a video that shows how they mix the signals in the transmitter of radio controlled models to adjust the various control surfaces. This is a third party video

The spin will be counteracted by the large ailerons even in low air, the trick is to stop the spin in the first place by making the craft very symmetrical and test that aspect.

Our novel answer to controlling the need for different centres of gravity: We will have serious control of the centre of gravity in the craft and we will be able to move the batteries and electronics with a screw mechanism back and forward in the fuselage. This will keep the craft from being unstable at supersonic speeds. Once it goes back to subsonic, we will begin moving the centre of gravity back as we begin to level out the flight and slow the craft.

At slower speeds, we have air brakes that will slow the craft if needed

The supersonic spike at the front of the aircraft is used to create the shock wave with a pin point device ahead of the fuselage and ensure that the biggest part of the shock misses the wing entirely. A shock wave over the wing creates massive drag and this is why many pilots in the early days, tried to break the sound barrier and failed. The spike doubles as a VHF / UHF antenna

Three weeks ago we launched a payload mainly of wood, covered in bubblewrap for the electronics and, with the parachute deployed, it reached 400kph. For the event we will be using a Zero Pressure Balloon to get to over 40Km altitude. If the 9Kg of the payload are not enough, we will increase the weight and size of the craft. We will brake the sound barrier, but need to show it is a fully working aircraft after the dive.

In World War II bombs from high altitude aircraft regularly broke the sound barrier. We will shift the centre of gravity well forward and act like a bomb. We should be able to punch through that barrier with a lot to spare – even Felix Baumgartner broke he sound barrier for his jump altitude of 39Km. He was not very aerodynamic. We expect to terminate supersonic flight at around 31Km
Yes, transonic is a bad place. We do not intend to allow the craft to stay there! Punch through while the air is super thin and keep accelerating!

Will we make Mach 1.5? – it depends on our launch altitude. We will achieve Mach 1 – the sea level speed of sound is our target. About 1200kph.

Area_rule_unifilar_drawing.svgThere is much more, but I expect that I have answered most of your questions in this email. We will be using ITAR controlled GPS units for supersonic tracking and also we will be using radar transponders to warn other aircraft. The Jason and I will be testing a lot of aspects of the flight with drop tests from balloons. I will be launching another balloon in a week’s time.

The picture above shows the constant area rule – efficiency is gained by the cross-sectional area of the aircraft being constant along its length. The fuselage gets thinner where the wings are as there area has to be accounted for. This rule is important as aircraft get close to the sound barrier and this is why Boeing 747 aircraft were so efficient.

Note the light blue area has to be the same as the dark blue area, including the area of the wings. This id the “coke bottle” shape that our adviser mentioned

Air Pressure, Altitude, Balloons and Rockets

Weather Balloon BurstAir Pressure and how it Affects Balloons and Rockets

By Robert Brand

Rockets

One of the big issues for rockets flying to space is the air pressure it must climb through. As a rocket climbs it gets faster and has to push more air out of the way. As it goes higher the air thins and you can see from the table below that it is exponential. Have a look at the 1/100th  fraction of one atmosphere below and you will see that the atmosphere is 1% of sea level. The change is not linear. The atmosphere thins to a tiny percentage at twice that height, but at half the height it is 10% of the sea level pressure.

NASA says: The velocity of a rocket during launch is constantly increasing with altitude. Therefore, the dynamic pressure on a rocket during launch is initially zero because the velocity is zero. The dynamic pressure increases because of the increasing velocity to some maximum value, called the maximum dynamic pressure, or Max Q. Then the dynamic pressure decreases because of the decreasing density. The Max Q condition is a design constraint on full scale rockets.

fractionof 1 atmosphere (ATM) average altitude
(m) (ft)
1 0 0
1/2 5,486.3 18,000
1/3 8,375.8 27,480
1/10 16,131.9 52,926
1/100 30,900.9 101,381
1/1000 48,467.2 159,013
1/10000 69,463.6 227,899
1/100000 96,281.6 283,076

The Falcon9 reaches the speed of sound at 1 min 10 sec into its flight and then reaches Max Q just 8 to 13 seconds later depending on speed,and air pressure variables. Unlike airplanes, a rocket’s thrust actually increases with altitude; Falcon 9 generates 1.3 million pounds of thrust at sea level but gets up to 1.5 million pounds of thrust in the vacuum of space. The first stage engines are gradually throttled near the end of first-stage flight to limit launch vehicle acceleration as the rocket’s mass decreases with the burning of fuel.

Want to know more? This is not full of maths, just some fun stuff about Max Q and reaching orbit.

Balloons

Well for balloons we have a different issue. Balloons have to displace their weight in gas in the atmosphere and that includes displacing enough gas for the weight of the payload too.

Rate of Climb - Fall vs TimeThe climb to maximum altitude for the most part is linear. I discovered this when analysing the stats from my first balloon flight. It was linear until it reached the point that the balloon exploded. If you launch a balloon that does not explode, it will slow its climb and then float. My best guess is that as the climb becomes more difficult due to the air thinning thus and thus the displaced gas is getting closer to the weight of the balloon and payload, but the air resistance is getting less. The size of the balloon is also increasing with height and has to push away a greater volume of air to climb, but the number of air molecules in the increased mass is way less. All up it produces a fairly linear climb. The graph (left) from uplift-1 shows he linear climb and the exponential fall with the parachute deployed. For the parachute, the air gets thicker as it falls and thus slows more as the altitude decreases. Note the initial glitch was caused by a strong thermal just as we let go of the balloon. Once out of the thermal the climb was very linear. It is obvious when the balloon burst.

Altitude and Air PressureAnother view of th same data is shown on the left from UpLift-1’s flight. Note that the rate of climb is linear, but increasing slightly. This would be affected by balloon size and fill amount. The rate of climb may be fast, slow or medium, but that will also change the rate of change of the volume. Not all graphs are the same, but they tend to be similar. Note also that the size of the parachute needs to change with the weight of the payload. The ideal speed for the average payload would be about 5mto 6m per second at the landing altitude, thus landing at Denver, Colorado, USA will require that you make the parachute a little bigger since it is nearly 2Km above sea level and the air is noticeably thinner.

There are good fill charts on the web allowing you to calculate the size of balloon and the amount of Helium or Hydrogen to determine the altitude at which the balloon will explode. More on that another time. The picture at top of page is a weather balloon exploding at altitude.

All up, air pressure can destroy a rocket if its speed is too great and it will destroy a weather balloon if the air pressure gets too low. Both rely on understanding the effects of air pressure, but the dynamics are totally different.

Too finish off the post here is a video of a balloon burst. They are spectacular, especially as the balloons grow to a huge diameter and fill the screen of most wide angle GoPros!: