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:

“ 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  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.

Look Out Mars, The Aussies are Coming – Median

kangaroo-red-earthMedian Mars Mission for Aussie Designer.

By Robert Brand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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.

Building a Workshop for ThunderStruck

Building the ThunderStruck Workshop3A Space Grade Workshop

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

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

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

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

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

Building the ThunderStruck Workshop

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

Building the ThunderStruck Workshop2

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

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!:

Team Stellar Balloon Flights

Team Stellar Balloons in Croatia

Here is a post straight from the Team Stellar news pages. I will have a lot more detail in a few posts soon. It was an incredible trip with really hard parameters. Jason (12) and myself went with Team Stellar’s CTO – Tim Blaxland. You can read directly this short post from Team Stellar’s website about the success and other news at:

Yes, we launched from the heart of Zagreb! I have never launched a balloon from the middle of a city before, nor in the harsh conditions we encountered. Success was pretty much guaranteed with our reliance on well-known science for the planning.

Stellar News

Balloon Stellar Stratosphere Update

During the last week, Team Stellar launched  two science balloons into the stratosphere, about 30 km above the Earth’s surface, to collect data for the purposes of diverse student-designed experiments of the competition participants.

We brought to Croatia three team members from Australia to help us with the launch and the recovery of the balloons. Robert Brand and his son Jason hold the world record with the perfect score of 16/16 successful launches, and recoveries. Their score is even better now, with two new successes. Tim Blaxland also came to help in organizing the launches.

The first balloon was launched on April 21. It was cloudy and it was raining, we were waiting for hours for a suitable moment to launch. After a few hours, we decided to go. The balloon achieved the maximum altitude was 109,500 ft (over 33 km). The recovery was very difficult, because the payload finished its fall on the top of a really high tree. After a lot of trouble, our guys somehow managed to take it down from the tree.

The second launch was done in somewhat better conditions. It was less cloudy and no rain. We launched the second group of student experiments. We also had an experiment with full HD, 1080p Wireless (WLAN) live stream from the stratosphere. The experiment was successful, and you could watch live stream on our web page. The Balloon reached the altitude of 30,862 m.

The recovery of the second balloon was very easy. The payload fell right in front of our chase team, on the flat land.

We are now returning the experiments to the teams, so that the students can see what their experiments have measured and what kind of data were collected in the stratosphere.


Stellar Stratospheric Balloon HAB Workshops

Bojan Markičević and workshopsBalloon HAB Workshops Scheduled in Croatia

What does it take to ensure that a major project like Stellar’s Stratospheric Balloon project works? Simply, lots of work by lots of people.

In recent days we have been examining the payload weights and requirements. Each experiment is allowed 150g or mass on board the balloons. None the less some have dangerous aspects such as fluids or heat generation. We have to ensure that their placement within our payload containment allows them to have the right “view”, air flow or whatever they require.  We rely on strong equipment descriptions and we have provided a wealth of information about designing and building payload containers, etc.

None the less, the contestants in what is effectively a competition have never done this before and simply, they need more assistance. To meet these needs we have assembled a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and our response. Stellar member Bojan Markičević will be traveling around Croatia and providing workshops for the various teams. The workshops have already commenced. The FAQ is below.

Download (PDF, 256KB)

Want to know more about this Stellar event?

Here are the details for our Balloon HAB Workshops – courtesy of Google translate:

Schedule creative Balloon HAB Workshops

Dear teams ,

Below is the schedule and locations of scientific and creative Balloon HAB Workshops. Workshops carried Bojan Markičević a period of 4-5 hours .

Also we want to remind you to forward information ( if possible , in English ) related to your experiments ( weight , volume , special handling ) to 10/03/2014 .
Please enclose as much information about your experiments , so that our technical team ( Robert Brand , Tim Blaxland and Vilko Klein ) could plan a schedule of cargo .

Workshop schedule :

10.3 . ( M ) – Sisak , location : Technical School Sisak , time : 10:00 / / Teams : Stream instantly impulse , Gorilaz , SOLAR TEAM

11.3 . ( T ) – Kutina , location : technical schools Kutina , time : 09:30 / / Teams : GRAVITY , SPACE JET

13.3 . ( Thu ) – Zagreb , location : High school Luciano Laurana , Time : 11:00 / / Teams : ASTRONITHYUS , Suave , TIM HELIOS , CROSTRATOS
14.3 . ( Five ) – Zagreb , location : First Technical School , Time : 11:00 / / Teams : X – TESLA , FAUST TEAM

18.3 . ( T ) – Metkovic , location : High school Metkovic , Time : 15:00 / / Teams : BHIS PRISM SPECTRUM

19.3 . ( W ) – Zadar , location : Vocational School Vice Vlatković Time : 13:00 / / Team : EIGHTBIT

20.3 . ( Fri) – Rijeka , location : Elektorindustrijska and crafts school in Rijeka , time : 10:00 / / Teams : ELECTRIC DREAMS , gymnasium Pula ( Pula )
24.3 . ( M ) – Osijek , location : Electrical Engineering and Traffic School Osijek , time : 13:30 / / THE Renewables , DEA

25.3 . ( T ) – Daruvar Location: Technical School Daruvar , time : 11:00 / / CRANES , Bjelovar STELLAR LABARATORY ( Bjelovar )

See you soon !

Building a Tricopter

IMG_1883Jason Shows his Completed Tricopter – Phase 1.

As part of our work in both doing things in the space sector or our HAB (High Altitude Balloon) flights, we have always needed video from overhead. Building this tricopter is our way of achieving this. Tricopters are stable platforms for video cameras if built right.

This is Jason’s project. He is 11 years old and in Year 7. He has a vast knowledge on flight and also has a model aeroplane and a few small toy helicopters. This is nothing like that. This is a workhorse for our aerospace projects and to monitor details on the ground when we are preparing for a balloon flight or other project. Eventually we expect that we will be able to park the tricopter in the air and have it video the ground without movement in the sky and without anyone having to control it. We will also have point of view screens for the pilot radioing back the front image from an on-board camera. This will be overlaid with instrumentation to help guide the pilot.

If you would like to build such a craft, we will be having a full build video and information. One thing that surprised me was that the craft was very quiet. We can fly it in our yard without any complaints from neighbours.

Before we show you how to get involved, I will show a couple of videos so that you can judge for yourselves. The fully flying tricopter costs about US$300 and the controller and transmitter costs about US$50. Not a bad price for a workhorse like this. Please note that the basic unit does not have a camera. We have added a GoPro in the unit for testing, but we will be building a proper camera mount in later phases of this project. In fact the camera mount will have head tracking. You can look down, up, even left and right to some degree.

Below is our first test flight in our yard. It flew straight away. That was yesterday.

Today we have made it very stable and very manageable. It has been raining so little chance to refine the machine, but unit is looking great. Below is a bit today’s flights.

We will be taking this tricopter to Croatia to assist with Team Stellar’s balloon flights, taking students experiments into the stratosphere. We will have to have batteries shipped ahead of our arrival as we will not be allowed to transport these batteries with us.


Stellar Launch Rocket

WotzUp Update (Archives)

Stellar Launch RocketWotzUp Update

*** Retrieved from Archives ***

Published March 25th 2013

Team Stellar

It is full steam ahead with a range of activities. The biggest one of all is the risk assessment of the navigation systems and choosing the system that best fits the mission. As for that activity, usually a risk assessment is done of a mission plan, we are changing that to be the other way around – developing a mission plan after we chose the navigation systems. Having said that we would like to land somewhere historic to be able to visit some amazing leftover systems like Apollo sites or other landers.

We do have one favoured site where man walked on the moon, but we are yet to see if the navigation capability supports the mission. NASA have a “No Go” zone around some of these sites and also do not want rocket exhaust too close to their site so it will be a long haul for our little rover if we do visit.

As well as the everyday navigation available to anyone, I am looking at developing my own ideas about a novel system to give precise distance to our landing site and an exact speed. This will enable us to be very efficient with fuel. It will be interesting to see if we can construct a system to achieve this and thus need a very good secondary system. More later…

Some of my radio broadcast have focused on Team Stellar. Stay tuned.


Seems that our KickSat will be launched later this year. Some good news on that front and I have a prototype of what will fly – lots of updates soon.

Better still I have been taking pictures from the ISS with EarthKAM – WOW. Lots of photos of Australia and if you students in high school can get your science teacher across this, you too can take your very own ISS photos. Read more below.


ISS EarthKam Coopers CreekDid you know that there is a 12 MegaPixel camera on the ISS that students can control and snap photos from space? All you need to do is get your science teacher to sign up to the site and get an allocation of photos for students to take pictures of almost anywhere on Earth. More in a future article, but to get you going, here is a photo taken by my good friend David Galea (a Melbourne Science teacher) of the Exmouth area in Australia.

Note I have not checked whether these photos are north up or North down and sorry, but I don’t have the time.

and below another one of David’s photos of the Kakadu Area

Like around New Orleans in the US, you can see how sediment from this river has extended the river mouth out to sea.
In the News

Linda mottramLinda Mottram Sydney ABC 702 Mornings

It seems that Australia’s new space policy about to be tabled may not suit everyone and especially entrepreneurs like me. I personally want to see more funds for space and to make sure our brilliant minds graduating from university have somewhere in this country to actually work and not be lost to other countries.

Because of that I have engaged with several groups and I am hoping that we can develop a common narrative so that the general public and the media will know our desires and capabilities in the space sector.

I have been on many programs, but two in particular in Australia – One in Melbourne with a panel to discuss the issues and one on ABC radio in Sydney where I discuss the issues and also Team Stellar. Links to those broadcasts shortly.

On another note I made it into a Croatian TV show all about Team Stellar!! My piece was videoed in Abu Dhabi during the first Team get-together in December last year.

Public Speaking

I start professional Public Speaking gigs soon and it will be all about SPACE! For the moment I will be with Ovations exclusively, but they have been slow to kick off. I will still do free talks for universities and other deserving groups for free, but I am now in an interesting area.

I have a long history supporting space missions starting at the age of 17 when I wired up some of the Apollo 11 video and switching equipment in Sydney Australia back in June 1969. I supported most NASA missions from then to 1986 and that included communications support for NASA’s Apollo, Shuttle, Voyager and other missions. Also ESA’s Giotto Mission to Halleys Comet.

But the real interesting stuff is that I am involved in current space missions. Team Stellar’s lunar mission within the next 2 years and the UK’s Median experiment scheduled to touch down on Mars in 2020 (lots of green lights to get past) plus all the other great space stuff like EarthKAm and KickSat

If you want to get me to speak at your event go over here and you can book me:

I can promise you lots of great photos, the odd video and an amazing tale of being at the heart of so many incredible projects. I am also very animated. Don’t expect me to stay still when I get so excited about the subject. I also have a great tale about changing careers from Telecommunications to Aerospace!
UpLift Videos

I have completed a number of UpLift flights that were commercial. Since our first flight in December 2012, we completed 14 flights and 13 were commercial. We recovered all 14 payloads for 100% success rate. We are also available for commercial payloads with prices starting at $5,000.

Here is one video for a frozen Yoghurt company – we froze the yoghurt in the clouds!!

HAB / Weather Balloons

We sold the 20 x 350g weather balloons that I bought in November last year. They sold out within a month! I have tried to get more balloons, but no luck.

Andrea Guzmán

Just got a Skype message from Andrea Guzmán from Columbia. I encouraged her to not only follow here dreams but to take action. I interviewed her recently and she had done so well. Now she seems to have even done better and so fast. This interview from June 2011.

Andrea Guzmán: Hey Robert. Long time no talk to you. Hope you’re Okay. Let me tell you I’ve done very interesting stuff so lately. I earned an internship in Mexico, I was there a whole month working at the 1meter Telescope.
Robert Brand: Wow – great work!
Andrea Guzmán: Now, im working with the second colombian satellite and well, everything is going just great
Robert Brand: Living the dream !!!
Andrea Guzmán: just wanted to let you know, as you have been also my mentor 🙂
Robert Brand: It is one thing to Dream, it is another to make it happen! One day we will meet!
Andrea Guzmán: I was actually applying for a workshop in satellites in Australia. Let’s wait and I’m sure we will meet someday.
Robert Brand: That will be fun. Lots to see if you are here!
Andrea Guzmán: sooo… thanks a lot to have confidence in me, without even knowing who I was
Robert Brand: It is easy to see who will make and who will not!
Andrea Guzmán: Thanks Robert 🙂

Wow! Things seem to be going great for Andrea and I want to remind everyone that you HAVE TO TAKE ACTION and not just dream. I encouraged Andrea to follow her dreams with action and she would have done this without my help, I am sure! It is, none the less, a great example of success through hard work.

Queensland Spaceport on Brisbane Radio

Spenser_Howson on ABC RadioRobert on Radio 2 re: Queensland Spaceport

The last couple of days have been spent talking to people about the possibility of a Queensland Spaceport. This has come from some someone outside my company and it is about space recreational activities. The media seems hopeful to discuss the possibility of a Queensland Spaceport. Previously Queensland was discussed as a possible launch site for more traditional rockets. I was contacted by Spencer Howson of Australia’s ABC radio network to talk about this. I try to keep my distance from the recreational side of space and concentrate on the benefits of having a spaceport in this country. Spencer broadcasts the breakfast show on Brisbane local Radio.

There is plenty of discussion about Team Stellar and what Australia is doing to land a private mission on the Moon.

P.S. I forgot to mention Team Stellar’s name! Please mentally insert into the broadcast.

The audio file (edited)  is here: Click here to play (PC users can “Right Click” to save)

You can also use our flash player below:

UpLift-1 APRS Tracking (Archives)

APRS – The Best Balloon Tracking Solution

There are many ways to track balloons. There is the Radiosonde, Mobile Phone (3G), HAM radio APRS and many more. Since I both work in Radio Telecommunications and I am a HAM radio operator (VK2URB), then it is an easy choice. The amateur radio APRS system is ideal.

So what are these systems in brief:

Radiosonde: Wikipedia says: “A radiosonde (Sonde is French for probe) is a unit for use in weather balloons that measures various atmospheric parameters and transmits them to a fixed receiver. Radiosondes may operate at a radio frequency of 403 MHz or 1680 MHz and both types may be adjusted slightly higher or lower as required.” This sounds more like a license is required and special Radiosonde equipment is needed.

GPS enabled mobile / cellular smart phones: We all know what these are, but do they work?. Firstly you had better hope that your payload drops in a coverage area. These work by sending an SMS to the phone on the balloon and it then relays its position back to you via another SMS. Mobile telephone coverage in rural areas might not allow you to get a fix on the balloon as it parachutes back to earth. There is also the issue of the GPS receiver. Most do not work at heights over 60,000 feet (20kms) and thus you do not know how high it got or when it is descending. Many people on a tight budget try to use cellular phones and many have great success.

UHF Tracking: Similar to Radiosonde, yet it operates on a low power UHF channel, often used for garage door openers, etc. It transmits the co-ordinates for the GPS location and must be tracked by radios especially set up to receive the transmissions. The data is often ported to the internet for display on a web page. Handheld yagi antennas are directional and look like UHF yagi TV antennas seen on rooftops and are used to track the payload when it is on the ground or in the air.

APRS_TestTrackHAM Radio APRS:This is the choice that I feel best suits the situation and given that I already have a HAM license, then I do not have to ask others to help. What is APRS?: Wikipedia says: Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) is an amateur radio-based system for real time tactical digital communications of information of immediate value in the local area. In addition, all such data is ingested into the APRS Internet system (APRS-IS) and distributed globally for ubiquitous and immediate access. Along with messages, alerts, announcements and bulletins, the most visible aspect of APRS is its map display. Anyone may place any object or information on his or her map, and it is distributed to all maps of all users in the local RF network or monitoring the area via the Internet. Any station, radio or object that has an attached GPS is automatically tracked. Other prominent map features are weather stations, alerts and objects and other map-related amateur radio volunteer activities including Search and Rescue and signal direction finding. APRS has been developed since the late 1980s by Bob Bruninga, call sign WB4APR, currently a senior research engineer at the United States Naval Academy. He still maintains the main APRS website. The acronym “APRS” was derived from his callsign.

Note the unusual off-white unit connected with wires in the top picture – it is the special high altitude GPS receiver. It will work up to very high altitudes but sacrifices some accuracy.

The picture above is the APRS Test Track around a street block on a hill near my home. Not precise, but very close. I was shaking the thing as I walked to make it hard for the system. I walked counter / anti clockwise from near the top without shaking and then where it goes a funny in the last quarter of the short walk I was really shaking it wildly. The unit reports on many details. These are:

VK2URB-11 is the balloon call sign

2011-09-10 02:59:41z is the date and time in GMT/Zulu

7 km/h was my walking speed

248 degrees was my bearing

alt 80m was my height above sea level

05.8v was the tracker battery voltage

20C was the temperature – about 70F

The other data is pressure, HHMMSS, and number of GPS satellites, the digipeater used (if used) and the iGate used.

Agilant systems APRS transmitter for balloonsPluses and Minuses

APRS is could always be better and there are not too many iGates (APRS gateways into the Internet) in rural areas, so you must check first. In fact I have chosen to have my balloon drop near Parkes for that very reason. There is an iGate in Parkes and the Digipeater (digital repeater) at nearby Mt Canobolas will also pick up the transmissions from my balloon. I have also chosen an area for good 3Gcellular coverage to assist with tracking and maps. Just to be sure, I will have a digipeater in my car so that if I am not too far away the position will be relayed by my car to the Internet for easy tracking. The unit I have chosen is specifically bought for ballooning. It is from Argent Data in the US. The unit weighs only 160 grams (5.6 ounces). It transmits half a watt (500mW). It is pictured top right and is a pre-release model.

The next issue is finding it when on the ground. Radiosonde and APRS are well suited to this task, but the APRS has a few tricks up it’s sleeve. Fist it might be able to radio its GPS co-ordinates to the Internet tracking system. As I get close with the digipeater, it will also do that job if no other iGates are in range. Secondly it may be picked up directly by my handheld radio, nice, but since it only transmits for 1-2 seconds, it will be hard to get a fix on the unit. Finally I can decode the data with my iPhone and simple read its exact co-ordinates. Nice! That is the directly decoded packets on the right. I did the test inside my house so the GPS coordinates will not be seen.

On the minus side, there is the need for an amateur radio license and access to the expense and homemade equipment that is either out of reach of some people financially or technically.

I also replaced the long general purpose whip antenna that you can see on the top image with a highly tuned light weight dipole. It is made of hollow brass and this also makes it easy to slide some stiff wire inside the antenna for tuning. The wire was then soldered in place to get the tuning very precise. This maximizes the antenna’s radiation ability at the precise frequency of the APRS system. We are using VHF at 145.175MHz. The pictures below show the modification. The work was done by my good friend Bruce who I have worked with on and off for over 40 years. He is also an amateur radio operator (VK2ZZM) and I am very appreciative of his advice and help on the APRS side of this project.

APRS Transmitter dipole antenna

The white Styrofoam under the unit is the lid of the UpLift-1 capsule. The antenna is mounted on a small printed circuit board, The copper wire is used to add strength to the copper on the board in case of mechanical failure that may make the copper peel from the board.

APRS Tracker with dipole antenna - back

The rear side above showing the bolts that pass through to the battery mounts on the tracker unit. A small amount of “locktight” was placed on the nuts to make sure that mechanical vibration did not make them fall off.

Spectrum / Network Analyser tuning the APRS tracker Dipole antenna

This is a state of the art network analyzer. It is measuring Return Loss. Send a signal to the antenna and what is not radiated comes back. The dip means that it is tuned to the frequency and radiating well. It is right on the tracker frequency. The Marker frequency. It is perfectly tuned and radiating the signal – not much is being reflected back into the cable. It is best practice as far as radio is concerned.

I will post a link to the tracker website that I will be using just before the day, but this link will let you see the few test drives that I have done in Sydney: