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: http://teamstellar.org/

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).


Preparing Your Balloon Payload

Stellar Balloon flight to the stratosphere in CroatiaPacking a High Altitude Balloon Payload

Below is a set of instructions I used to help some teams launch their balloon payloads in our upcoming HAB flights in Croatia. You might like to consider them a guideline to how you can pack a payload in light weight material for your flight. Of course you can use a Styrofoam box, but that is a bit of an overkill in the world of light weight  payloads.

If this helps, then please use the ideas and send us a link on your web page:

The Instructions:

Creating your experiment is the hard part, but finding something to put it in can be very difficult too. I have included some idea here that should help. Firstly, let me say congratulations in getting this far. It is great to see so many ready worthy experiments going into the stratosphere.

Let me start this paper by explaining what the out package is meant to do. The balloon will leave the ground and quickly rise in to the upper areas of the troposphere . Here is where jet aircraft fly and if you have ever flown and seen the outside temperature, displayed on the navigation screen, you will know it can get to around -60 C. Hopefully we will only have temperatures of around -50 C. By the time we reach 7km, there is more mass atmosphere below us than above us. In fact way more. This means that the atmospheric pressure is getting very low. At about 20km altitude, we will pass from the troposphere and into the small layer known as the tropopause. Look that up!

The stratosphere is next and it is very warm compared to the temperatures in the jet stream. It may reach -20C or in some places and on some occasions could reach an amazing 5 C. Since the balloon flies with the wind, there is very little force on the balloon during its flight. Even when the balloon explodes, the fall has little impact on the experiments. It is briefly like the “weightlessness” of space. A light foam package may reach speeds of 160kph in the thin air. As the air thickens the parachute slows the payload and we should have a light impact of only around 5m/s or 18kph. Finally what if it lands in water?

So, the main things that we need to combat are:

  • Pressure
  • Temperature
  • Weight
  • Landing impact
  • Water

A note on batteries. Very cold conditions will cause problems for some types of batteries. Alkaline batteries can be a big problem aand can fail during the flight. We recommend Lithium batteries as these resist the cold very well. They also last about 4 times longer than Alkaline batteries.

Weight is simple, each experiment is meant to weigh only 150 grams, including the packaging, so we are looking for very strong light weight packaging that will fit the size of our payload.

Pressure is less of a problem on the most part. Most things survive pressures close the extremely low pressures of space. We will expect about 1% of the pressure seen at sea level. Pressure does however make it hard to waterproof a payload. Waterproofing usually means sealing things up. That unfortunately will probably create an explosive effect on a large mass of air in any packaging.

Temperature of the payload – or cooling! Heat will leave your experiment quickly and freezing temperatures will probably be experienced at about 3,000m. from then on, your experiment will not return to temperatures above freezing until back on the ground. Check your battery specifications and we have some things that we can do to limit the effects on the battery. More on that later.

Landing Impact is not high. It is easy to cushion an impact of that size. You can run as as fast as that for a short time. The fastest human foot speed on record is 44.72 km/h. The cover still needs to cushion the impact.

Water. We hope to ensure that if it lands in water, we can still recover the experiments. Nothing will keep water out, unless you can make sure that there is no air in the packaging. Then it can be sealed totally. This will be difficult.

Suggestion 1 – Bubble Wrap

Sounds crazy, but bubble wrap can survive in space without the bubbles exploding. It achieves all of the objectives and can even keep water out. it is a good thermal insulator as it has trapped air, it is very light and can cushion impacts as well as floating. It is what I like to use if possible.  The electronics for UpLift 16 was wrapped in Bubble Wrap. You can see the wires  coming out of the package.

In the above picture, the three wires on the right terminate in a black temperature sensor for the outside air. By keeping it in the shade just beneath the bubble wrap, I was able to measure the temperature of the atmosphere at different altitudes. After landing, it was over 2 weeks before we went to recover the payload and the electronics were intact. In fact we did not even use a parachute. The bubble wrap provided the cushioning for a fall from the stratosphere. It also cause some air braking, slowing the fall. Since the battery was next it the electronics – separated by one layer of insulation tape, the warmth of the payload and the warmth of the battery are used to keep both as warm as possible by each adding to the internal heat. The bubble wrap simply slows the loss of heat.

The one thing to remember when using it is to wrap it three times. Also remember that the bubbles will expand and will apply some pressure to the payload unless loosely wrapped. It should be sealed with a light weight tape.


Suggestion 2 – Food container

Ever had takeaway food in a plastic container? These are very light and strong. If they land hard, they may crack, but that is about it. They are also rather air tight at time. If using these and you do not cut holes for sensors, cameras, wires, etc please remember to add a small hole to allow the air to exit and enter so that it does not blow the lid off the container or crush it.  The pin hole will not let in too much water if it lands in a lake, so it will float. You may still need some bubble wrap around the outside, but this is still very light weight. The ones pictured below weigh 33 grams

 Takeaway Food Container


Suggestion 3 – Paper Towel Roll

These are long and strong as well as light weight. Simply they work well. They are also very light weight – 10 grams. You can tape the ends for both securing the payload and increasing the strength. It is not water resistant, but there is almost no way of protecting your payload for the small possibility the payload landing in water. You can carefully cut the roll to form a smaller holder and lower weight.


Suggestion 4 – Toilet Rolls – Clean and Unused!

Make sure that the roll has not been used in the toilet please! Remove the paper and you will find a short roll about half the size of the paper towel roll weighing about 5 grams. Again, taping the ends will help in securing you payload and increasing strength.

Suggestion 5 – Kitchen and other containers

Look around the kitchen, the bathroom and almost anywhere in your office or home there are a variety of containers. Here are two more:

IMG_1947 IMG_1948

One is a cotton bud container weighing 20 grams – small but very strong. The other is a fruit container without a lid. You can cover the top with a rectangle of thin plastic – ensure air can escape. The cotton bud container weighs 20 grams and the fruit container weighs also weighs 20 grams but is very large in comparison.

Electrical Connections

It is important to ensure a secure electrical connection if using electronics. We suggest that all connections be soldered and also make sure that switches are not easily “knocked” to the off position. This can be easily achieved by cutting the top off a lever type switch – even a tiny ones. This means less of the lever to get in the way as well as less leverage. Similarly there are other switches such as slide switches. These can be accidentally knocked too. You can cut these down too. We can use a screwdriver to slide the switch as directed in your instructions. You can also go to your electronics shop and get a switch that may need a screwdriver to operate.

We can also suggest that you tape the switch to the “on” position so that it cannot be accidentally switched off if bumped during packing or during flight.

Alternatively, use a Plug and socket. these are robust. Below is a picture of a battery pack with a connector ready to be plugged into the payload.


These are small and very light weigh.

Final Tips

A few final tips:

  • Write your full details on a label on the payload.
  • Use a waterproof pen on the container.
  • We suggest that you use Lithium batteries and thermal insulation to keep your batteries (and possibly the payload) from freezing.
  • Have fun creating your experiment.
  • Stand back – we are doing science! 

As I said at the start, these are a few ideas for students participating in Team Stellar’s Stratospheric Balloon flight / Balon Stratosfera. I hope that some of this helps with your own balloon projects.


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



Building a Tricopter

IMG_1883Jason Shows his Completed Tricopter – Phase 1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


GLXP Terrestrial Milestone Prizes

Vilko Klein Team Stellar CTOTeam Stellar GLXP Update

Below is a page from the Team Stellar website. It is a story about teamwork and since I was very much involved, I have added the team story below. You can read this and more on the team blog at the GLXP site (Google Luna X Prize):


GLXP Terrestrial Milestone Prizes

This year is closing to its expiry date, and we have only two more years ahead of us to complete the Lunar mission. Google Lunar XPRIZE felt a kind of a deadlock in most of the teams progress, and assumed that this is mainly due to the inability of fundraising in the difficult years for the world economy, so they decided to help the teams with the Terrestrial Milestone Prize opportunity.

 What is good for the teams about Terrestrial Milestone Prizes? Many things, I would say.

First of all, there is a possibility to get a considerable amount of money. The Terrestrial Milestone Prize, as a proof of the value of the team and its project, as well as the prize money, can also help the team improve their chances to find sponsors for the entire mission.

All the teams have more or less developed plans and designs for the Lander, Rover and other systems, but it is not a bad thing to present your plans to the experts in the field (Judging Panel) for evaluations.

Vilko Klein Team Stellar CTO

Vilko Klein CTO at Team Stellar

Our team presented the Milestone Definition Data Package (MDDP) for two categories Mobility and Imaging. The Project Manager for the definition of the data package was our CTO Vilko Klein. Vilko organized a working group to produce MDDP. Designated members did their part depending on the their expertise field. The deadline was too short for us, but, with some extra efforts, lost nerves, lots of coffee and burning the midnight oil all around the globe, we managed to finish on time.

Last month, we parted with our important member and executive Brandon Arroyo. Although our paths diverged, we wish Brandon good luck and success in his career

ITAR and Australia – Not Happy!

Tidbinbilla NASA Deep Space Network DSN 70m dishThe US ITAR Regulations and Australia

My rant for the day about ITAR. Well, I am ranting about ITAR most days! It is a rather difficult situation where another country’s regulations are imposed on your country. Well how did this happen? First I had better explain what ITAR is. This from Wikipedia:


International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) is a set of United States government regulations that control the export and import of defense-related articles and services on the United States Munitions List (USML). These regulations implement the provisions of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA), and are described in Title 22 (Foreign Relations), Chapter I (Department of State), Subchapter M of the Code of Federal Regulations. The Department of State Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) interprets and enforces ITAR. Its goal is to safeguard U.S. national security and further U.S. foreign policy objectives. The related Export Administration Regulations (Code of Federal Regulations Title 15 chapter VII, subchapter C) are enforced and interpreted by the Bureau of Industry and Security in the Commerce Department. The Department of Defense is also involved in the review and approval process. Physical enforcement of import and export laws at border crossings is performed by Customs and Border Protection, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security.

Simply put, Australia has forged a close trade alignment with the USA and to obtain those trade concessions, we had to agree to ITAR. This makes it very difficult indeed to work in the space sector and still obey Australian laws and ITAR. One simple issue is Australian Discrimination law. These are strong and rigidly enforced and in essence making everyone equal. Even those with temporary visas that allows work in Australia. There are also those with dual or multiple citizenship and ITAR has issues with this. It even affected NASA’s Australian Deep Space Network near Canberra. I was there last April and recently posted this on Facebook:

I was invited to NASA’s 40th Anniversary celebrations of the 70m (230ft) diameter dish at their Deep Space Network (DSN) site near Canberra in Australia. It was in April 2013 – earlier this year. Note the three flags in the image below – the US, Australian and CSIRO. The CSIRO is an Australian organisation that has been contracted to run the site for many years – CSIRO stands for Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.  Continued below…

Australia has close security arrangements with the US and we have access to ITAR restricted material under special trade arrangements with the US government. Australia is therefore somewhat controlled by the ITAR regulations in unusual ways. CSIRO ran into issues with ITAR as some of their employees were legally citizens from other countries. This is a bit of a red flag under ITAR rules and it is also a breach of Australian law if you remove staff from certain areas because of race – we have strong anti-discrimination laws here in Australia. The only way that we got around this was to absorb all the Australian DSN staff into the government as government employees and that satisfied ITAR. So basically we now have rules written by a foreign government that are also enforced in Australia – crazy. I guess if they change ITAR, we also have to change!

I am glad that we have good security arrangements with the US, but it is hard for me to work in the space sector when one of my main aerospace engineers at PlusComms holds three passports! I remain concerned about the ITAR minefield I am crossing in my company.

This is also a minefield for our team in the Google Lunar X-Prize – Stellar Aerospace – our new name. We have many countries involved and their laws on exporting knowledge and equipment are all part of the equation.

Robert Brand