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.


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

USA – 2014 Dates for Your Diary

Spacefest VISpacefest VI and ISDC2014

Next year I have been asked to speak at Spacefest VI and I am hoping that I will also be speaking at ISDC2014, but no invitations yet. None the less here are some 2014 dates for your diary

Spacefest VI  May 8-11, 2014

This will be the third year in a row that I have been a speaker at Spacefest and I am, as usual, really looking forward to this coming year’s event. My talk this year will be very different and that is the wonder of working in the space sector. Always something new to tell the world. It will not be in Arizona this year, but instead it will be in Pasadena, California.  As an Australian, it is a long trip to the US and a short hop to Pasadena will be a relief compared to the long haul from Tucson, but I have come to love Tucson and all it has to offer. Still Pasadena has a whole of new space venues to visit.

So what is in store in Pasadena? Spacefest says:

This year, we are having a special ticketed event at the elegant Pasadena Civic Auditorium , the centerpiece of the Pasadena Center. Tickets are already part of Universal and Galactic ticket packages, or are available at the Civic’s box office, or through Ticketmaster (after 1/1/14.)

The show will begin with our most popular panel, the Apollo astronauts, whose anecdotes are insightful and often hilarious. The Standing Room Only crowd last year came away with some insider’s viewpoints delivered directly from the horses mouths. Prof. Brian Cox and Dr. Carolyn Porco will moderate. Questions will be fielded from the audience.

Afterward, Carolyn Porco will present the latest discoveries and stunning images from Saturn, including her Earth-imaging event “The Day The Earth Smiled”, and will finish with her views on the greatest legacy of 50+ years of planetary exploration.”

Then, professor Brian Cox, former rock star and UK heartthrob, will lecture on the nobility of science, as he’s currently a brilliant particle physicist at Europe’s Large Hadron Collider.

The closing segment will feature a stimulating exchange as Dr. Porco & Prof. Cox field questions from each other, and the audience. This was such a popular segment last year that this year, we’re taking it to the big stage!

The VIP reception (Universal & Galactic packages) usually in this time slot at past Spacefests, will be at 6PM Friday night, location TBD.



ISDC2014ISDC 2014 May 14-19, 2014

International Space Development Conference (ISDC) 2014  – “A Space Renaissance”

May 14 (Wednesday) to May 19 (Monday), 2014

in Los Angeles, California at Sheraton Gateway Hotel at LAX Airport


Not much information yet on the ISDC2014, but it was a fully packed event and had some great speakers and great exhibits.

I hope to get a speaking spot here and look forward to attending both Spacefest and ISDC since they are almost back to back events.


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.