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


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:


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

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.


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:


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.


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.

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.


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


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


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


Darwin Area and Spaceport Darwin

Point Stephens NT_2

Bundaberg HAMing it Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAM club BARC’s unofficial Response

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kind regards,
David VK4HAX
Bundaberg Amateur Radio Club.


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

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


Want the full story?:


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

HABE HAM flight near Maximum altitude.

HABE HAM flight landscape

HABE HAM flight mid flight

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

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

The Sound of Flight

UpLift-28 ReleaseUpLift-28, Please Sound Off.

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

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



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

A Sound Idea

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

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

UpLift-28 payload sound systems preparationA Sound Launch

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

Rankins Springs Frost

Frost on the ground – Coldest launch yet.

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

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

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

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

UpLift-28 Release of sound recording payload

A Sound Flight

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

Prediction for 2016-07-16_2 UpLift-28

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


Prediction for UpLift-28

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

UpLift-28 Actual Flight.

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

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

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

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

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

A Not so Sound Descent

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

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

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

Uplift-28 Parachute twisted shut.

Jason holding the useless balloon (above)

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

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

UpLift-28 payload ready to take back to cars

UpLift-28 Payload packed and ready

UpLift-28 Robert and Jason Brand toasting success.

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

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.

read more

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:


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

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.


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


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.

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


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).


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.


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.


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.


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.

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)


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. 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.

Air Pressure, Altitude, Balloons and Rockets

Weather Balloon BurstAir Pressure and how it Affects Balloons and Rockets

By Robert Brand


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.


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!: