Space Tools – Reaction Wheel Fun

Reaction Wheels are Great Fun

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

A reaction wheel Test platform

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

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

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

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

When to use a Reaction Wheel

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

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

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

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

Point Stephens NT General Area

Spaceport Darwin Proposal

Point Stephens NT General AreaSpaceport Darwin – 55Km Drive from Town.

by Robert Brand. It is clear that Australia needs a Space Agency and the Agency needs to help establish an Australian Spaceport. Given that it is only a matter of time I am very interested in Spaceport Darwin!

What is a Spaceport?

The Oxford dictionary simple states: a base from which spacecraft are launched.

These days, with spacecraft returning to earth for reuse and also for winged spacecraft, the definition must also include landing so a modern definition would be:  a base from which spacecraft are launched and landed.

Port Stephens in the Northern Territory of Australia, would seem to make an ideal spaceport. I believe that the land is mainly Crown Land on a perpetual lease to the Northern Territory Land Corporation. There are no buildings on the point and the land appears to be available for development. A gravel road is the only way of getting close to the site and it may currently be unpassable during the wet season.  The wet season tends to cause major access problems without high dry road access. Luckily the road traverses only high land, but the rain can make this road impossible to travel. If development starts, the road would need to be sealed from Darwin and also new roadways within the complex.

For those wanting to take a better look, it is on Google Earth and it is the land to the south east of Gunn Point NT Australia:

-12.180 Latitude and 131.160 longitude.

The land is 19km north to south and up to 11km east to west at the furthermost points.

Possible Australian Launch pointsWhy Spaceport Darwin?

In the picture to the right, I have outlined (in red) some areas suitable to launch. It would be ideally suited to an equatorial orbit and possibly a polar orbit. It should also be suited to a sounding rocket launch with a forward landing spot. There are few places that a space port should and can be built. There have been several false starts with Great Barrier Reef concerns and major land rights groups forming a huge lobby in Cape York. Inland sites tend to have severe restrictions on large launches because of the risks of launching over land and an population.

Australia does have Woomera, but it is inland and has massive issues for launching anything other than sounding rockets (straight up and down). Launching over water offers a way lower risk and the cost of insurance. Woomera’s costs are very high at the moment. Commercial launch sites are more competitive. The nearest large town is a day’s travel.

Any launch site needs to be capable of growing with the needs of the site and I expect that this proposed site should be able to grow to 4 launch pads for the future. Obviously it will start small, and grow with the need for local space services.

What Makes a Good Spaceport?

What are the important requirements of a Spaceport. This is not a spaceport for space tourism, but it could easily be included. We are looking at a serious launch facility in this proposal. The possibility exists to launch multistage rockets from this site. So as a launch facility, what essentials or important items do we need?:

  • In a country with financial stability.
  • In a country with political stability.
  • In a country with geological stability.
  • In a country with a well educated workforce.
  • Clear path to the east (equatorial orbit).
  • Clear Path to the north or South (polar orbit).
  • A safe distance from any public building or public road (8Km from launch pad).
  • Fresh Water. Lots of it.
  • Short distance to a major town.
  • Road, train, air and port facilities near by.
  • Ability to isolate the area for launches.
  • Construction work force.
  • Operational work force.
  • In town fabrication.
  • Land ahead capability for sounding rocket flights.
  • Close to the equator for equatorial flights.
  • Expansion for future launch pads
  • Private launch facilities / launch pads
  • 5km or longer runway a possibility.
  • Substantial power services.
  • Calm water in the launch area
  • A substantial distance from any airport
  • A substantial distance from town for safety reasons.

There are way more requirements or “should haves” like fuel handling facilities, but the ones above are a great start. Let’s see how Spaceport Darwin shapes up.

Essentially we have a green light on all of the above points. The only issue is the need for road works once the site becomes operational.

There are issues with the northerly launch, with a tight flight path between some islands. There is land only to the south.

Another benefit is the local waters to the east are only about 10m to 15m deep. This is well within normal scuba diving capability (usually 27m depth max for sports diving). Recovery of rocket components that may parachute to the water can easily be recovered.

A large observation area for the general public can be placed on the southern end of the complex Launch days attract many people that want to get close to the launch of a major space vehicle – even a small launch. It is essential to keep people 5Km from any launch. The launch pad should be 8Km away from public property. All of this is a green light for Spaceport Darwin.

There is a small national park to the east only a 10km kilometres away. It is small and only 8km wide. Human access is only by boat. Another small piece of land is crossed by any spacecraft launched to orbit and it is 170Km to the east. Most rockets will be in space or near to space by that time and the land is sparsely populated. This is perfect for a sounding rocket flight with a winged glider returning from space. There is even a sealed runway at Oenpelli Airport. This is 200Km distance from the launch site at 95 degree bearing and within gliding distance for a landing. The rocket would land in Van Diemen Gulf.

Electric power is not far away and fresh water is readily available from underground sources and large tanks can be filled over time before any launch. Water recovery following a launch is also possible.

There is plenty more to look at and assess, but Spaceport Darwin has a lot of positives and with operations cost being 60% or more for a launch, having local staff living in Darwin with a short drive each day is very attractive. Below is the Van Diemens Gulf map. Note most flights are likely to be in space or close to space as they pass over the land to the east. The population density is extremely low.

Space Port Darwin - Van Diemen Gulf NT

Spaceport Darwin Benefits

Spaceport Darwin will:

  • Attract high tech staff to the area
  • Increase local tourism
  • Improve unemployment figures
  • Create innovation in the region
  • Attract foreign companies and investment
  • Improve roads and services
  • Focus attention on the region as a global Space Hub
  • Have a 5km runway in the region for emergencies once fully operational.
  • Be a space tourism launch and landing site.

This discussion will continue over time. Please leave your comments about this site.

 – and yes, there are crocodiles!

Greetings Fellow Rocketeers

Did I say that we were Building a RocketDream Chaser spacecraft Graphic on top of a Rocket for Launch?

by Robert Brand. No we haven’t, but here is the buzz – we are developing significant rocket technology.

It was ThunderStruck team member David Galea that headed his email with “Greetings Fellow Rocketeers” and it may stick because ThunderStruck is building rocket technology. We may be building more rockets later but right now we are specifically building a booster for a bigger rocket. A booster that could make it to space all by itself with a ThunderStruck suborbital winged craft as the payload (mounted right on top of the thruster). The rocket will be configured as a sounding rocket – not orbital. The picture (above right) is a similar craft, but a way bigger craft, on top of a bigger rocket. Non the less it will look similar.

This will take years to build and it may result in a static test fire in the Australian desert in the next year or two depending on financing. None the less, it will be an amazing opportunity for a small company to gain considerable traction in the rocket building field.

The info here is a basic format that hopefully high school students can understand

Rocket design commencesRockets and Maths

Mathematics is essential in building space equipment, space craft and navigating in space to mention a tiny bit. Without maths, rockets would explode from over-pressure or fail to get to space because we over-engineered it and it was too heavy to be a work horse.

The image at right is a basic configuration. Solid fuel with an air core and a thrust and nozzle at the bottom. Looks simple, but the maths have to be done first to get an estimation of the pressure we can expect and the strength of the tank and the weight of the tank with different metals. note that as the fuel burns down from the inside towards the metal of the tank, the area burning is greater and the pressure thus increases in a big way. You can change the fuel configuration to burn slower or have less thrust, but that could change simplicity of equation below so we will assume that the fuel is the same for the entire burn. That has been done and we came up with two limits on the mass that we can now work with. The optimum design will be in the middle somewhere.

After putting a rough design on the table with a mass of 2,000Kg fully fueled, we managed to get to space with a big payload and a coasting altitude of 150Km or more. This was with a speed of 1.5Km (or more) per second at the 30 second burn when the fuel is exhausted.

A second design with 3,000Kg mass fully fueled only managed a bit less than 25km altitude. The optimum booster, configured as a sounding rocket lies somewhere in between. The next part of the work is to consider the options. That is:

  • Do we use more thrust and increase the tank and nozzle pressure?
  • We we increase the fuel load and mass?
  • Do we reduce the fuel load and mass?
  • Do we change the fuel and increase the pressure and  even the burn time?
  • Do we reduce the mass of the payload (250Kg in this initial desktop design?
  • Do we reduce the mass of the rocket?

These are just a few of the options, but how do we calculate these things – Mathematics of course.

Below are the maths for the heavier second design that only got to under 25Km configures as a rocket. It would have made a poor booster.

NOTE: this is a simple bit of maths for model rockets, but it applies to the bigger ones too. It is not the whole deal, but will give a good estimate for the first pass.

David Galea’s maths for the second configuration performance:

ThunderStruck Rocket Flight Profile – Estimated Calculations

There are three basic equations to find the peak altitude for the rocket

  • Max velocity v, the velocity at burnout = q*[1-exp(-x*t)] / [1+exp(-x*t)] = 916
  • Altitude reached at the end of boost = [-M / (2*k)]*ln([T – M*g – k*v^2] / [T – M*g]) = 13,191.684 m
  • Additional height achieved during coast = [+M / (2*k)]*ln([M*g + k*v^2] / [M*g]) = 11,515.9877 m

Total Height Achieved = 24,707.67 Km

All the terms in these equations are explained below on the method for using the equations.

  1. Compute Some Useful Terms
    • Find the mass M of your rocket in kilograms (kg):  2950kg
    • Find the area A of your rocket cross-section in square meters (m^2):  0.342m^2
    • Note that the wind resistance force = 0.5 * rho*Cd*A * v^2, where
      rho is density of air = 1.2 kg/m^3
      Cd is the drag coefficient of your rocket which is around 0.75 for a model rocket shape.
      v is the velocity of the rocket. You don’t calculate this drag force, though, since you don’t know what “v” is yet. What you do need is to lump the wind resistance factors into one coefficient k:
      k = 0.5*rho*Cd*A = 0.5*1.2*0.75*A = 0.1539
    • Find the impulse I and thrust T of the engine for your rocket. I= 3907501 Ns , T= 118841.27 Ns
    • Compute the burn time t for the engine by dividing impulse I by thrust T:
      t = I / T = 3907501 / 118841.27 = 32.88 seconds
    • Note also – the gravitational force is equal to M*g, or the mass of the rocket times the acceleration of gravity (g). The value of g is a constant, equal to 9.8 meters/sec/sec. This force is the same as the weight of the rocket in newtons.
  2. Compute a couple of terms, I call them “q” and “x”
    • q = sqrt([T – M*g] / k) = sqrt([118841.27  – 2950 * 9.8] / 0.1539) = 764.427
    • x = 2*k*q / M = 2 * 0.1539 * 764.427 / 2950 = 0.079759536
  3. Calculate velocity at burnout (max velocity, v), boost phase distance yb, and coast phase distance yc (you will sum these last two for total altitude).
    • v = 764.427*[1-exp(-0.079759536*32.88)] / [1+exp(-0.079759536*32.88)] = 660.916
    • yb = [-2950  / (2*0.1539)]*ln([118841.27  – 2950 *9.8 – 0.1539*660.916^2] / [118841.27  – 2950 *9.8]) = 13191.684
    • yc = [+2950  / (2*0.1539)]*ln([2950 *9.8 + 0.1539*660.916^2] / [2950 *9.8]) = 11515.9877

Rocket SoftwareDavid says: I have double checked my calculations with wolfram alpha ( with the same results.

Well fellow Rocketeers, we will continue to let you know about our big adventure with things that could “go BANG” as we develop our technology.

The Screen shot at right is a basic program that you can get for free or you can buy a more professional  version for model rocket hobbyists. None the less it is fine for early desktop modeling.

We will keep you in touch with the professional software that we will eventually choose and use for the serious design phase.

All you students, please get your head down and study maths. We will need to have capable people working in the space sector as Project ThunderStruck becomes an Australian Space staple.

ThunderStruck Spacecraft Development Begins

BOR-4 breakdownWinged Spacecraft Takes Form

Our ThunderStruck team has commenced design of the ThunderStruck Spacecraft. This graphic, courtesy of Project Thunderstruck team member David Galea, is just a doodle to break down the benefits of the Russian BOR-4 design. We then looked at Dream Chaser which looks surprisingly similar, but with a modern interior. We too will have a similar design but with some big differences. Our starting length will be 3m (10 feet); our unfueled mass is expected to be 400Kg and optimum payload return will be 50Kg. It will have hypergolic fuel for the space flight – main thrust and hypergolic thrusters.

This From Wikipedia:

A hypergolic propellant combination used in a rocket engine is one whose components spontaneously ignite when they come into contact with each other.

The two propellant components usually consist of a fuel and an oxidizer. Although commonly used hypergolic propellants are difficult to handle because of their extreme toxicity and/or corrosiveness, they can be stored as liquids at room temperature and hypergolic engines are easy to ignite reliably and repeatedly.

We are now go for liftoff in eerrhhhh …in 6 years… But we have started. We are choosing a suitable fuel at this time – one that is relatively safe for humans and still able to provide the thrust needed to de-orbit and maneuver. There are new fuels – not as powerfully as many of the well known thruster fuels, but sacrificing power for safety could be a really good thing if the numbers stack up.

The Invasion of Space has Begun.

At this time, the Thunderstruck transonic test vehicle has been on hold, but it too will benefit from the spacecraft design kicking off since they may share common components. The Spacecraft will be slow to design and build compared to the transonic testing flier, but we have to start this if we are to finish it in a timely fashion.

It is expected that we will partner with a university that will assist with the build. At this time we are closest to Sydney University and we know that they have similar goals of working with a winged re-entry flier.

It is clear that we are not relying on using the Russian BOR-4 as a blueprint, but it is a starting point. It is also clear that the BOR-4 and the Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser share a lot of common air frame characteristics. So Dream Chaser was the next craft to go under the microscope.

Critical to the design and thus one of the first components to understand is the type of fuel that will be needed. This may determine that we need a bigger craft to carry the tanks or that the shape must be different to handle the large tanks.

Dream Chaser Graphic on top of a Rocket for LaunchDream Chaser is large and has a crew. Our craft does not have a crew and the spacecraft is small in comparison.

Dream Chaser can launch on top of a rocket and we expect ThunderStruck to do the same. ThunderStruck is way smaller and potentially has folding wings and thus could sit inside a fairing making the ride more comfortable.

ThunderStruck will have docking ring and the ability to swap old and new payload canisters. ie to provide a new empt7y canister to , say, an asteroid service craft and bring back a full set of samples.

ThunderStruck will evolve and its capabilities will change as we grow. Our aim is to make the smallest rocket launched spacecraft with wings for re-entry and an exchangeable payload.


Apollo 11 Interview in Full

Robert Brand at a recent London Space Conference

Robert Brand at a recent London Space Conference

Apollo 11 Interview – Spaceflight Magazine

by Robert Brand

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

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

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

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

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


Apollo Heritage – A GLXP Hangout

Apollo 11 45th Anniversary Hangout - Apollo Heritage and the GLXPApollo 11 45th Anniversary Hangout – Apollo Heritage and the GLXP.

Well the Apollo Heritage Hangout event is over and I had a lot of fun with the interview or should I say “armchair chat”. It was a very comfortable discussion. I am excited to tell you that there is a video of the event. It was recorded and the link is below. I must say that I am very taken with Dr. Pamela L. Gay (the host) and her interview style. I was never left with a feeling of “what will happen next”.

I was on the Apollo Heritage Hangout with Derick Webber, one of the GLXP judges and an easy to get along with type of guy who was also around during the Apollo era. He is also Director, SpacePort Associates. Author of “The Wright Stuff: the Century of Effort Behind your Ticket to Space” and much more.

So without any more chatter, click on the link below and settle in with a drink and enjoy the fun.

Please connect with out team – Team Stellar:

About Robert Brand:

Works for; and shareholder in a Communications and Aerospace company called PlusComms:

Head of the Communications, Tracking and Data Division in Team Stellar.

Worked in Communications support for about 100 NASA and US military space mission and several ESA mission. Stationed at the Parkes Radio Telescope in comms support for the NASA Voyager flyby of Uranus and Neptune and ESA’s Giotto mission to Halleys Comet.

Robert regularly launches stratospheric balloons for both commercial work and scientific research. Some of the commercial flights are supporting space research for universities and private companies. The work is done through his company, PlusComms. He has launched 18 flights and recovered all 18 payloads. He will soon be building drones with supersonic capability (gravity assist).


Apollo 11, 45th Anniversary Memories

As mentioned in the last post, I was a 17 year old trainee technician when I had the opportunity to wire up some of the NASA Apollo 11 comms gear here in Sydney. I interviewed Richard Holl for the Apollo 11 40th anniversary. He was on of the NASA staff that manned the centre during the landing and moon walk. Below is a story that will surprise a few people, but it did happen and it almost crippled the Apollo 11 mission.

An Explosion in the Scan-converter.

by Robert Brand

A few weeks before the launch of Apollo 11, the scan-converter at OTC Paddington in Sydney exploded when it was switched on by NASA‘s Richard Holl following a test. The explosion occurred because the scan-converter was wrongly rewired one evening. Weeks of frantic work by Richard Holl and his team resulted in the scan-converter being completely rebuilt. It wasn’t until a few days into the mission that their work was completed in time for the historic broadcast. Richard Holl explains:

“The scan-converter used three phase power. It was the only piece of equipment in the room that did. All the other equipment was running on a 110 volt panel that was well labelled. Black is hot and green is ground in the USA, but in Australia black is neutral. It had originally been hooked up correctly to the US standard as we had just completed a full blown simulation the day before. The unit was fused for 240 volts as it had a three phase power supply, but it was the out of phase power that caused the massive current that did all the damage. Apparently an OTC technician working on other circuits thought the black wire was wrongly connected and changed it. When the scan-converter was switched on the next day it blew up. I got a meter out and checked the incoming power and found the mistake. “I repaired or replaced the slow scan monitor, NTSC monitor, camera, disc recorder, power supplies, and Grass Valley video equipment. The camera in the scan-converter was totally fried. The new camera did not have the inversion modification in it. I couldn’t take the hardware out of the bad one to modify the new one, so I had to buy all the components in Sydney. I couldn’t get the exact relays, so I had to specially design the one for Sydney. It was different to the others. Ted Knotts and Elmer Fredd came over from the USA to help with the repairs. Ted did all the logistics like getting Hewlett Packard in Sydney to fix the waveform monitor and Tektronix to fix the oscilloscope, and getting us the spare parts and tools we needed. Elmer and I would never have gotten it all done without Ted taking care of our needs. I had to perform a lot of magic, but nothing compared to the magic Elmer performed when he started working on the converter logic. I bet we replaced over a hundred transistors (all discrete components) and we were still replacing them while the boys were on their way to the Moon. We made it and so did they”.

I believe that it was around this time (minus 40 years) that the scan converter repairs were completed. Not mentioned in the text above (courtesy of my good associate John Sarkissian and CSIRO) was the fact that a motor/generator set was needed and was arranged and secured to a plank of wood in the basement of the Paddington terminal. It worked!

Photo by Richard Holl (L-R) Ted Knotts, Dick Holl and Elmer Fredd standing in front of the Parkes Scanconverter at OTC Paddington following the mission.

Apollo 11 45th Interview – GLXP

Hangout 006 GLXP Apollo 11 45thRobert Brand is a Special Guest for Apollo 11 GLXP Hangout.

Not much to say, but to follow the link below and be part of the Apollo 11 special event for the Google Lunar X Prize Team Hangout. I am part of Team Stellar – one of the GLXP teams

Many of you will not know that I was one of the many OTC employees that worked on the Apollo 11 comms here in Sydney. I was 17 years old at the time doing work experience. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time when the regular staff needed help. OTC was Australia’s government run international carrier. It was merged with our national carrier when the country deregulated the telco sector in 1992.

I will be discussing my experiences wiring up the Apollo 11 gear in Sydney – not that this was an amazing event, but since I am part of a group building a mission to go to the moon with a Rover, it appears that I am about the only person in the GLXP with a connection to the Apollo 11 event. I have learned a lot from others in the old company where I worked and from personal research. Hopefully I will do an adequate job. I was 17 years old back on the day of the landing.

Note that although the poster states the time as 6PM PST, the time is actually daylight saving time 6PM PDT – That is 11am Sydney time.

I bumped into Buzz Aldrin 2 months ago when I was presenting a talk at Spacefest in Pasadena. I have learned a lot about the missions by talking with these guys.

Buzz Aldrin at Spacefest 2014

Buzz Aldrin at Spacefest 2014

Sydney video scan converter. Photo by Richard Holl left yo right: Ted Knotts, Dick Holl and Elmer Fredd standing in front of the Parkes scan converter at OTC Paddington following the mission

Sydney video scan converter. Photo by Richard Holl left to right: Ted Knotts, Dick Holl and Elmer Fredd standing in front of the Parkes scan converter at OTC Paddington following the mission

Why Break the Sound Barrier with a Small Aircraft?

Supersonic Glider-spacecraftThe Sound Barrier is a Major Steppingstone

As I announced in my last post, Jason, my 12 year old son, will attempt to break the sound barrier. Above I mention that this is actually a steppingstone. “A steppingstone to what?” you may ask. The simple answer is “to build a spacecraft”. So why to we need to break the sound barrier? Well we want to test transonic flight. Not on the way up, but on the way down! ie slowing from supersonic speeds above the sound barrier (Mach 1 and higher) to subsonic speeds )below Mach1


This is the hard part for any craft that I may build in the future. We can always buy a ride to space on one of the many well known rockets such as ESA’s Ariane rocket or SpaceX’s Falcon9. So what is the grand plan?

Personally, I see the future of any craft that I build (within an aerospace company) as being a reentry vehicle to return samples from space. This will mean transiting a number of challenging areas in its return to earth. Two of the critical areas are

  • the initial intersection with the atmosphere that will cause massive heating of the exposed portions of the craft – this often requires either:
    • an ablative shield – one that wears away as it heats, carrying the heat away
    • a strong insulator such as the tiles used on the space shuttle
  • crossing the sound barrier – that is the transonic area of flight. This is from Mach 1 to Mach 0.75 – the speed of sound down to 75% the speed of sound.

Hyabusa reentry sequencIf we were using a capsule like the Japanese Space Agency’s (JAXA) return capsule, Hyabusa, transonic regions would not be a problem, but I believe that the future for me is in building an aircraft-like reentry glider that will allow up to 20Kg of payload to safely transit to earth.

The picture to the right is  the landing sequence for JAXA’s Hyabusa that landed in the centre of Australia. It is not complicated, but you do have to know what you are doing and the downside is that it lands whether the winds take the parachute.

I want to fix that problem. I would love to be able to direct the returning spacecraft to a point on the map that allows us to land it without having to recover it from an unknown place in the desert.

Supersonic Aircraft SpikeThe picture at the top of page is somewhat like the expected end product. I expect that the spike will not be on the spacecraft, but it will be on the transonic test vehicle.

The picture at right is a test vehicle with a spike. There are many supersonic aircraft that either have a spike of a very sharp nose well ahead of the wings.

Returning from space the spike would be a liability in the heat of reentry. It will also not be an asset in slowing down a craft. We only need to have the spike to help lower the Resistance to breaking the sound barrier for our tests. In our tests we will use gravity to accelerate the test craft to way past the speed of sound, but shock waves (pressure waves) would slow us down and limit our top speed. We would probably still break the sound barrier dropping the craft from around 40km altitude, but the quicker we transit the sound barrier the higher our top speed.

So what does the spike do?

supersonic shockwaves in a windtunnelAs I said a sharp nose is the same as a spike and the image to the left shows the effect of the spike as it moves the shock wave to the point and away from the wings. A sharp point is a very low area of shock and in the image you can see the shock waves from the wings as very low level compared to the shock from the tiny front of the aircraft. So long as the wings are tucked in behind the initial shock wave than the resistance to flight is lowered.

Now I may have been a bit simplistic here, but none the less, the spike is important to supersonic flight. Since we are wanting to slow down, we can actually round the nose of the returning spacecraft after we conclude the test flights.

So Why Didn’t the Shuttle Need One?

WPointy nose and shockwaves at mach 6.ell it did need to slow down and so you might think that a blunt nose is a good thing, but that is not the reason. But wouldn’t a sharp nose be good for takeoff, spike or no spike? Well yes, but the shuttle had wings that were very wide and a spike could not be placed that far forward. The resulting shock waves on takeoff and especially re-entry would be a bit problem as they would hit the wings.

Re-entry would be the biggest problem. The shock wave from a pointy nose would hit the wings and further heat the air. You would be adding thousands of degrees to the heat that it is already being generated on the leading edge of the wing – not a good idea!

The image above right shows a pointy nose model in a mach 6 airstream. You can see the shock waves hitting the wings midway along their leading edge.

So What Happens with a Blunt Nose?

The image to the right says it all. The blunt nose acts as a ram and pushes the shock wave way to the side. This misses the wings by a long way. The blunt nose does add to drag so that is another benefit, but a minor one.

What Else Protected the Shuttle from Shock?

Ever consider the orange main fuel tank? Where was the shuttle positioned relative to its nose. It had a point, but was really broad.

What effect did that have during launch at high speeds. The shock wave that resulted missed the shuttle entirely. It is important that the top of this tank was far enough forward to protect the shuttle. The whole design and shape of the combined modules on the launch vehicle was super critical and not just a random bunch of sizes. Minimizing shock waves means being able to both protect the vehicle and increase the payload as you have less drag.

In other words, if the main tank had needed less fuel and had been smaller, then it would still have needed to be as high to push the shock waves aside.

Each and every part of an aircraft that changes its size or sticks out causes shock. You must account for it or suffer the consequences.

The image at right clearly shows the  shock wave of the jet disturbing the water. You do not have to be traveling at supersonic speeds to produce shock waves, but the faster you go, the more power is lost and the stronger the shock wave.

Robert Brand – Speaker

Robert Brand Speaking at Spacefest VI 2014

Need a Speaker for that Special Dinner?

Want a passionate and entertaining speaker for your event? Someone that motivates, tells a story with enthusiasm and clarity, someone that has done it all!

Robert spoke at Spacefest in Pasadena, Ca in May 2014 and received comments such as “that presentation alone was worth the cost of registration”.

Twitter messages continued for weeks after the event. This one from @cybernova: Reminiscing on how incredible the 3D images of Mars and the lunar landing looked. Huge thanks to @robertbrand for putting that together! – 29 May 2014

So why the excitement? Robert is a skilled presenter who speaks about topics ranging from Space to Inspiring kids to think big.

Robert presenting in CroatiaYes Space! Robert is one of Australia’s leading space entrepreneurs and building space services and some a space craft. At the age of 17 he even worked on the Apollo 11 switching centre in Sydney that brought the world the feed of Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. Since then he has worked in supported most of NASA’s Apollo missions, Skylab, Voyager and was stationed at the Parkes Telescope for ESA’s Giotto probe to Halleys Comet.

Robert worked in Communications for these space events, but at the age of 59 migrated quickly into the Space sector, making an instant hit world wide. He has appeared many times on ABC Radio on such shows as Linda Mottram’s Morning Show in Sydney (702), Richard Glover’s Drive (702) The Science Show, Radio Australia’s Breakfast Club and many stations around Australia.

ABC Radio’s Linda Mottram: Robert Brand’s expansive vision for Australia in aerospace is inspiring and exciting. He has the kind of energy and vision that could easily make Australia a leader. How starkly it contrasts with the mundane pronouncements from political leaders that leave so many of our best brains running for the door.

Internationally he has appeared on Radio in the UK, The Space Show in the US and This Week in Science (US). He has also had many TV appearances in Australia commenting on current space matters.

Robert speaks regularly at Spacefest in the US where he competes for a speaking spot with space experts from all over the world. He has spoken for the last 3 consecutive years on the same program as Apollo astronauts, mission controllers, planetary scientists and the key note speakers like Prof. Brian Cox (UK) and Dr Carolyn Porco. He has also spoken at ISDC and space conferences throughout Australia as well as Engineers Australia. The video below shows Robert and his son Jason (12) in Croatia launching balloons and being interviewed on Croatian TV. Robert is not just someone that did something great in the past, he is pushing forward into new and amazing frontiers.

Robert’s subjects although they appear mainly science and space oriented; include:

  • Motivating youth to achieve their goals
  • 3D slide presentations
  • Using Social Media to accelerate career change
  • Thinking outside of the box to stimulate new ideas and create change when budgets diminish
  • Wild Sports. Diving with sharks, cave diving, flying ultralights, gliding, climbing, abseiling, etc
  • Stratospheric balloons – 19 successful flights and recoveries – breaking records.

His presentation slides are mainly original material from many of his exploits, balloon and space work, but he does not repeat any text from the screen. His presentations are all about natural speech and because “he knows his stuff” he talks effortlessly to engage the audience.

Robert and Jason presenting in CroatiaHe sometimes speaks with his 12 year old son Jason. Jason is an accomplished speaker and demonstrates how a young mind can grow when not limited by normal constraints. Jason will be attempting to break the sound barrier with a Radio Controlled aircraft in the next 12 months. He will fly it as if he is in the cockpit using a video radio link and home built equipment all of his design.

Jason has spoken at Engineers Australia with his father and in front of 100 scientists in Croatia.

Robert Brand’s speaking fees are $3,000 for a dinner, lunch or breakfast engagement in Sydney. Other cities or engagements will need to be subject to a quotation.

As an introductory offer, for 2014, his standard fee, if booked direct, will be 50% off.


Robert’s style is passionate and energetic and he moves and gesture a lot. Boring is not in his vocabulary. He sometimes challenges the audience so there is usually a bit of interaction. He also uses the occasional prop. A cordless microphone is preferred. A projector and laser pointer are essential and he must use my own PC if doing a 3D presentation.

Balon Stellar - Stratosfera 30km and RoverRobert is also the head of the Communications, Tracking and Data for Stellar – a space company sending a rover to the moon in the next three years. Jason is the Australian Student Representative. Together they travel internationally to talk about Space and to launch Stratospheric Balloons with student payloads to help stimulate space science in those countries. They have just returned from Croatia.

Robert will speak at “no cost” or a cost recovery basis on occasional Radio and TV interviews as well as presentations for small associations, not for profit groups and student focused groups. Simply ask.

Call +61 448 881 101

Robert and Jason presenting in Croatia

NASA EDGE TV Appearance

nasatvNASA EDGE TV and KickSat.

by Robert Brand.

I have long been both a watcher and supporter of NASA EDGE TV so it was great when asked if I would take part in a pre-launch interview for the KickSat project (aboard SpaceX CRS-3). NASA EDGE has changed from the early days when it was a little less polished and has now cemented a strong place in the NASA TV family.

NASA EDGE is a video podcast which explores different missions, technologies and projects developed by NASA. The program was released by NASA on March 18, 2007.  They also do live streaming video and I have been asked to take part the pre-launch activities for SpaceX Falcon9 launch in about 12 days’ time. I will be talking about the KickSat project that will be riding on board the rocket.  In fact a KickSat that I will part own will be on board, ready to fly into space and then into orbit as a complete spacecraft.

Watch out for the launch of SpaceX CRS-3 and of course KickSat

Things may change, but I will provide details as it gets closer to launch time. Let’s hope I’m still part of the program, but as a seasoned speaker, I know what can go wrong with any booking or any launch.

Want to know more about NASA EDGE?

What is NASA EDGE?


NASA EDGE. One NASA. Two hosts. Twenty thousand plus rocket scientists. We have liftoff!

NASA EDGE is different. Unscripted and unpredictable, NASA EDGE takes a unique look in and around the greatest space program on the planet.

Whether it’s the latest launch or the coolest gadgets, NASA EDGE hosts provide an offbeat, funny and informative look behind the NASA curtain. If you’ve ever wanted to learn about NASA but thought you needed to be a rocket scientist, wait no longer. Watch NASA EDGE and embrace your inner astronaut.




KickSat – Owning a Spacecraft.

kicksatKickSat – Our Personal Spacecraft

Hey, guys, be jealous. Be very jealous! Jason and I own 1/3 of a real spacecraft that will fly in 18 days aboard a Falcon9. It is a resupply craft for the ISS, so it will be in sight of the International Space Station. So not only will it fly in space, it will have been close to the ISS!

It is to be launched with a lot of others from a special box that will eject all of the Kicksats It is sometimes called the Mothership. After three days flying free after being released, our spacecraft will flutter back to earth somewhere, probably intact. It will never be found, but no matter. My very own (part of a) spacecraft will have flown in space and back. How many of you can say that! This will be one great space adventure.

Pictured top right is a prototype. I keep this in my wallet to show people how tiny a spacecraft can be. People just don’t believe it until they see it. The big silver area is where the solar panel sits. The computer and radio receiver and transmitter are the chip in the middle. HAM radio will supply the ground links. Yes, this is just one crazy experiment – a swarm of spacecraft all able to communicate with each other and with earth.

MissionClockSpaceX Falcon9 Resupply Mission

This launches in 18 days. There is a great iPhone App and probably one for Android. It is Called MissionClock. You can follow the launch of the Falcon9 and the KickSats. This is of special interest to the creator of MissionClock as he has also invested in a KickSat. The picture on the left is the main screen for the resupply flight and the KickSat mission. I have used this application for many years. It is really good and I recommend it.

Before the flight I will provide the links to be able to track the swarm and our little craft.

If you are a HAM radio operator, I can help organise the information that you need to help with the tracking.

This flight is ground breaking. It is both a swarm and a crowd funded flight.

The Flight in More Detail

Once in orbit, the Falcon 9 will release the Dragon towards the ISS and, a few minutes later, pop the KickSat mothership into orbit. Did you see the movie “Gravity”? The slight delay is to avoid a space debris disaster like the movie. It’d be a risk if all those tiny satellites end up pinging around the world at high speed in exactly the same orbit as the space station.

The mothership will spend at least seven days in orbit before the sprites (the tiny KickSats) are released. “There are some space debris mitigation concerns,” admits Zac Manchester – the creator of the project, “but we’ve worked with the ISS Program Office to make sure it’s safe for the ISS.” The sprites’ orbit is so low that they will only survive for around three days before the upper atmosphere drags them to destruction.

What do They Do?

Some of the sprites will do little more than go beep, like the original Sputnik, others will transmit identification codes and some will even be used for science. Those fitted with magnetometers – like the ones that provide your smartphone compass – will transmit data about the Earth’s magnetic field. Others will send back information on temperature, orientation or radiation.

Stay tuned for more details on the flight. It will end in about one month’s time. That is the mothership below ejecting the Sprites – or KickSats. Who owns the other 2/3rds of the craft? S some Facebook friends and I chipped in #100 each to buy this baby.

KickSat Mothership



Slingshot Effect

Robert brand 2013Also Free Return Trajectory

I mentioned in a recent post on another website (Facebook) about the real issues about “slingshot Effect” and what it really was all about.

The following is a short bit of discussion on that. It has relevance to my current work as Tim Blaxland and I are working on Stellar’s Google Lunar X Prize documentation. Tim (below) is Stellar’s navigator or to use a more colourful word, our “Astrogator”. He joined the discussion.

Tim BlaxlandThere was some small confusion as I was aware of the Apollo free return trajectory. Note that my comments refer to the fact that even with free return, there are rockets and thrusters to be fired / used for a number of different reasons such as speed and improving the target of the flight. Apollo 13 yhad added dificulty as the lunar module’s thrusters were not arond the centre of gravity of the mass and those steering the three joined vehicles were at the rear end of the vessel.

I will add more detail if there are more posts on the subject.

I was asked about “slingshot effect” and found the wiki article is reasonable for a beginner. It is hard to understand the finer points of the poorly named effect.

This gives the basic info. Obviously it is never as simple as the basic equation as you can pretty much never change direction 180 degrees. If you tried to do this with the moon to slingshot back to earth, the gravity and speed would be wrong. No matter what you would need engines to get the equation right for an earth return. The further away you are, the less the effect.

Gravity assist – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In orbital mechanics and aerospace engineering, a gravitational slingshot, gravity assist maneuver, or swing-by is the use of the relative movement (e.g. orbit around the sun) and gravity of a planet or other celestial body to alter the path and speed of a spacecraft, typically in order to save prop…
Cassini_interplanet_trajectoryThis from Wikipedia about the above diagram:The Cassini probe – multiple gravity assistsThe Cassini probe passed by Venus twice, then Earth, and finally Jupiter on the way to Saturn. The 6.7-year transit was slightly longer than the six years needed for a Hohmann transfer, but cut the extra velocity (delta-v) needed to about 2 km/s, so that the large and heavy Cassini probe was able to reach Saturn, which would not have been possible in a direct transfer even with the Titan IV, the largest launch vehicle available at the time. A Hohmann transfer to Saturn would require a total of 15.7 km/s delta-v (disregarding Earth’s and Saturn’s own gravity wells, and disregarding aerobraking), which is not within the capabilities of current launch vehicles and spacecraft propulsion systems.

  • Hitesh ॐ Mohan “Although the lunar landing was aborted (Apollo 13), the crew continued toward the moon and circled it so its gravity could provide a slingshot effect for the return to Earth.”…/

    Apollo 13 Commander Remembers the Aborted Moon MissionApollo 13 crew arrive on the prime recovery ship U.S.S. Iwo Jima following the ocean landing and rescue in the South Pacific. Exiting the helicopter are (from left) Fred Haise, mission Commander James Lovell and John Swigert. Click to Enlarge. Cr…

  • Kurt Kammeyer Technically, it was called a “free return trajectory”.
  • Robert Brand you still have a lot of maneuvering and firing of rockets / thrusters to make that happen. Things have to be very precise.
  • Robert Brand “After circling the Moon once and creating a speedy free-lunar return trajectory, the LM descent engine was fired twice to establish an even faster return path. The descent engine was fired twice during the return flight to correct the spacecraft’s trajectory.”
  • Hitesh ॐ Mohan What was the escape velocity from the the moment the lunar module, escaped the lunar atmosphere and at what speed did the craft sail at to return home?
  • Robert Brand Firstly there is no lunar atmosphere (well, nothing to write home about). I do not know the speeds.Maybe someone can advise.
  • Royce Jones This effect could be used to help power a Starship.
  • Tim Blaxland Robert, you can do a free return, literally free. Apollo 8, 10 & 11 used this trajectory. I have simulated these trajectories to verify. Later missions didn’t use true free return trajectories because they were trying to squeeze more payload onboard and open up a wider range of landing sites. True free return trajectories we just too restrictive. The hybrid trajectories were similar but required some thrust to get back to Earth. The deviation of the hybrid trajectory from the free return trajectory was limited so that a return could be achieved using either the SPS, DPS or SM RCS (but not the LM RCS). There is a very good essay on the subject here:

    Launch Windows Essay
    Let’s go to the moon. When shall we go? Right away. Where shall we go? Copernicus, Gassendi, Marius Hills? Let choose along the way.
  • Robert Brand Great to know Tim. There must have been a very lucky relationship with the size of the moon, the orbital speed of the moon, etc. I understand that once the mass is big enough, it is all a matter of distance from the object to get the free return trajectory right, but I was unaware that the moon was right. None the less, as I said, if the free return was possible, it was going to take some firing of rockets / thrusters, etc to get her home because the trajectory would not have been accurate enough. I read that it was a free return, but there was no way they were escaping the need to burn the LEM descent engine – in this case – twice! The burn coming out of the moon was two fold – much of it was to give them more speed to hasten their return trip to get back to earth. The final one was to course correct or end up cinders. They still had to orient the capsule after jettisoning everything so that they did not skip off the earths atmosphere and into space. Plenty to go wrong. My point was that they had to use thrusters and engines to get home. It was not quite hybrid, but it was a real problem. With the thrusters gone on the service module and I believe the command module (could someone in the know verify), it is like driving a car from the trunk / boot. Very hard indeed. The thrusters would not have been in the centre of mass.
  • Tim Blaxland Yes, the CM RCS were disabled to keep enough energy in the CM batteries for reentry, along with everything else they could possibly turn off.
  • Robert Brand Yes, I believed that the thrusters were non operational on the CM.

13th Australian Space Science Conference Pt1

13th ASSC Uni NSWSpace Education

by Robert Brand

I was fortunate to present at the 13th Australian Space Science Conference at Sydney University a little over a week ago. The only unfortunate thing was a mix-up by yours truly and I ended up there on the wrong day. I was meant to be delivering a talk on “Triple Play in the Space Sector” and poor Alice Gorman, who was hosting the panel, was asking if I had turned up. My biggest apologies ever Alice!

I did however get a chance to present in the education stream and I am including this presentation here. My son Jason came along to help me as it was school holidays. Luckily every talk was about some of the work that he does with me, so it was pretty interesting most of the time.

Below is the PDF version of my PowerPoint presentation. It is interesting to note that we are doing so much that I can easily put together a complete presentation during a few other people’s talks. As you can see I gave my WotzUp website a plug!

You can download it here:  Click to Download

Download (PDF, 3.5MB)

Collins Armstrong and Aldrin pass by waving

Apollo 11 visits Sydney

Collins Armstrong and Aldrin pass by wavingMy photos of the Apollo 11 Crew.

Nov 1st, 1969

by Robert Brand

If you read my post about my involvement in Apollo 11 communications in Sydney, then you’d know that I could not miss the opportunity to see the crew of Apollo 11 in the flesh.

The crew toured Sydney on November 1st 1969 – just 3.5 months after their flight. The streets of Sydney were crowded and all I had in my camera was black and white film.

The site of my pictures is close to St James train station in the heart of Sydney. They cruised up up Kings Street from the west with security and a police escort.

I was very proud to have been a small cog in the massive gears of the Apollo mission. I was still 17 years old and just a kid that could not even vote, but it was an amazing experience. Below are my photos on Facebook and a copy of one of the newspapers.


“I was 17 and although I wired up a lot of Apollo comms gear at OTC Paddington in Sydney, I had to take my place on a Sydney street to snap a few seconds on the Apollo Astronauts driving by.”

From Apollo 11 tour Sydney Nov 1 1969. Posted by Robert Brand on 12/21/2011 (8 items)

Generated by Facebook Photo Fetcher 2

NASA Canberra DSN road signs.

NASA Canberra Celebrations

NASA Canberra DSN road signs.NASA’s Canberra 70m Dish Celebrates 40 Years

NASA Canberra has a great celebration last April 13th 2013. Jason and I went down to help in the celebrations and it was a great opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the big dishes. We also got to meet a lot of great people and some of the NASA DSN’s top managers from the US.

We also meet with long time Facebook friend and now a full space friend Peter Aylward seen in the picture above right. It was a great weekend full of space fun and a special visit to the site that brought us Armstrong’s first steps on the moon – Honeysuckle Creek.

There is a great piece of moon rock in the visitors centre as well as lots of real objects from the early space missions. A real “must visit” for those interested in space and NASA.

The photos below are from my Facebook pages:

“My son Jason and I visited this complex on the 40th anniversary of the 70m Dish.”

From Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex 2013-04-13. Posted by Robert Brand on 4/15/2013 (32 items)

Generated by Facebook Photo Fetcher 2

Robert Band at Spacefest IV 2012 (Archives)

Australia’s Space History at Spacefest IV

by Robert Brand.

As many of you know that I have recently moved into the Space sector, but I am not talking about just comms. I am talking about designing and engineering a space mission.

Because of this I was asked to speak at Spacefest IV. It was held at Tucson Arizona in the US. My talk was on a bit of the past and the future. In fact it was this talk detailing my experiments at 20-30km that got me the space mission job.

After 18 hours from waking to arriving at Las Angeles with no sleep, I drove the 10 hours to Tucson.Quite a trip and I did try to sleep and rest along the way, but managed to get there safely. It was an amazing resort (J. W. Marriott Starr Pass Resort) with a facilities you can only dream about like the massive circulation pool and water slide. This picture was taken close to my room.

I was in interesting territory. This all started just over 3 years ago when I was contacted to do an amateur radio moon bounce event to celebrate the Apollo 11 40th anniversary. Since then things have grown and I was drawn into amateur rocketry and amateur satellites. My balloon experiments at 20km and 30km got noticed as did my current attempt at purchasing the  Jamesburg Earth Station. I ended up on the speakers’ list at Spacefest IV and I was amongst some formidable speakers. I was amongst Apollo astronauts and moon-walkers, mission controllers and planetary geologists. I certainly had to given them their money’s worth (they were paying). Until my talk I was enjoying the visual feast of the area and the people. There were about 18 astronauts and mostly Apollo astronauts.

All the astronauts are pictured here – That’s Al Worden with his shoes off. He was getting annoyed at the long time it took to shoot the photos and got a little fidgety:

Above: There is a crew member from every manned Apollo flight represented in this photo. Apollo 7: Cunningham, Apollo 8: Gordon, Apollo 9: Scott, Apollo 10: Cernan, Apollo 11: Aldrin, Apollo 12: Bean, Apollo 13: Haise, Apollo 14: Mitchell, Apollo 15: Scott & Worden, Apollo 16: Duke, Apollo 17: Cernan, Skylab 2: Weitz, Skylab 3: Bean & Lousma, Skylab 4: Gibson, ASTP: Brand.

I even got to meet the elusive Buzz Above: Aldrin, but he does not let his guard down easily and unless you are signing a $400 autograph it is hard to speak with him..

My talk went over very well. I told the story of Carnavon, Paddington and Moree’s contribution to Apollo 11 and other missions such as ESA’s Giotto probe to Halleys Comet. It was a fantastic opportunity to remind the US that they did not do this all by themselves. Well they pretty much did, but I certainly reminded them that Australia was important in the actual mission as the earth turned!

Above: Even my namesake Vance Brand, command pilot of the Apollo Soyuz mission was on hand and we got along famously just because I had the same name as his brother! That is us below:

The talk covered the Paddington site, manned by NASA staff:

Above: In the lead up to talking about NASA and OTC’s Carnarvon site I mentioned this story that I published here a few months ago – in fact it is a cut and past from the exOTC website:


Above: I went on to talk about the current high altitude experiments and the future of Do-It-Yourself Space – experiments that I am doing with my 10 year old son Jason who has his amateur radio license


I am looking forward to next year’s Spacefest where I expect to be in late May 2013. Here is a video of a few parts of my talk. The photographer accidentally interprets the bit about  the Giotto mission as tracking rogue asteroids, but he only filmed fragments and put some words together. Thanks to my good friend John Sullivan for the video.

High Altitude Balloon Experiments

Here is a picture taken at 26km from a recent weather balloon flight from Rankin Springs in central NSW:

You can click and click again to enlarge the image. Use the “Back” button to return here.

Below is a little image to show how amazing the results are even at 26 km. my photos are unaltered and taken from the above image:

The Sydney Morning Herald did a story on one of the flights. Here is the video:

After Spacefest I traveled to Jamesburg and I have already written about that in an earlier post.



Australia Enters the Space Age – History

wresatAustralia’s WRESAT 1967 – History

Weapons Research Establishment Project: WRESAT

Not WotzUp, but a good bit of Australian History. Some Australian Space history for those interested.

On 29 November 1967, Australia became only the fourth country – after the USA, Soviet Union and France – to launch its own satellite from its own territory.

The battery-powered WRESAT weighed about 45 kilograms and was designed in the form of a cone. Three cones (two test and one actual) were constructed in the development phase, and a range of tests were carried out to ensure the satellite’s durability. As well as the durability tests, the final experiment tested the ejection of the protective plate covering the instrumentation during flight. In the early days of rocket and satellite work, countless experiments were lost due to the failure of covers to eject.

The scientific instrumentation carried by WRESAT followed on from previous upper atmospheric research that had been conducted at Woomera using sounding rockets. Among other things, WRESAT’s sensors and detectors measured solar radiation and its effects on temperature and composition of the upper atmosphere. The satellite was able to collect atmospheric information covering the high latitudes of the northern hemisphere and the mid-latitudes of the southern hemisphere – areas where measurements hadn’t previously been taken.

wresatHaving arrived at Woomera from Orroral Valley, and after some final checking and testing of experiment instrumentation, the satellite was transported to its launch vehicle. Reportedly the American team was horrified at the sight of WRESAT bumping around in the back of an open truck. The Australians argued that if it couldn’t withstand the short ride, it was not likely to withstand a lift-off. By launch stage, the rocket had been painted white for ease of tracking.

This sequence of the film is actually a bit misleading. The launch was originally intended for 28 November 1967. The six-hour countdown commenced on time, but was aborted 30 seconds from zero due to the failure of a heating-cooler unit to eject. So although the launch, which took place successfully the following day, was historically very significant, very few dignitaries were there to witness it. During WRESAT’s orbiting life of 42 days, it went around the world 642 times and transmitted scientific data on 73 of them, until its batteries were exhausted.

Australia’s Space Policy – Interview

 Space Show Southern FMRobert Brand Interviewed on Australia’s Space Policy

This interview was with a group to discuss Australia’s upcoming Space Policy. Australia’s Space Show originates in Melbourne. It is broadcast on Wednesdays between 7pm and 8pm on 88.3 Southern FM

INTERVIEW: by Andrew Rennie – February 6th 2013.

Space activities in Australia. Discussion on the soon-to-be released Australian National Space Policy. Featuring:

David Reneke
Astronomy lecturer and teacher
NSWRobert Brand
Director of Spacecraft Communications
Team Stellar
Sydney, Vic

Lachlan Thompson
Associate Professor
Aerospace Design
RMIT University
Melbourne, Vic

Len Halprin
Space Association
East Brighton, Vic

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