HAM APRS Tracker – Byonics to the Rescue – sort of.

APRS Tracker Issues – an Amusing Response.

In Australia to use an APRS tracker you will need a “full call sign” for an amateur radio operator. A foundation or other license is not good enough. We use these trackers by always ensuring that we are not putting it on to a commercial payload, or that the commercial payload agrees to space in their payload for community experiments. We always use 2 trackers and they simply may be a pair of SpOT trackers or a spot tracker and APRS. At times we have even used 2 APRS trackers with different SSIDs (identifying codes)

My High Altitude Balloon (HAB) work just got made a little easier. My old trackers were all starting to fail. I just took delivery from Byonics of one of their MT2000 HAM radio APRS trackers. This is only for licensed Ham Radio operators and it is a sweet device for its size. It can output over 2W of power and has a full transceiver on board. It is easily configurable and runs off 5v to 12v. I think power output is a bit less than 500mw at 5V. It is as light at anything and easily programmable as I also bought the USB cable – a 9 pin D connector for RS232 slips over the end and I will solder it in place. I usually slip a VHF antenna right on the end (red cover cap) and I will solder the special GPS receiver in place on the board. There is still a connector on the GPS unit. It should be noted that these GPS units are configured to work above 60,000 ft as most GPS stop there. Don’t try using the GPS in your phone for tracking on a balloon!

Hey, before I go too far with the Tracker, here is a video from one of our flights. Made for MYOB, it shows the quality of our work. This payload was extreme and we built it on the spot from a wooden frame prepared the night before:

I suggest that you click full screen to get the real impact of this video! In fact go to YouTube and it is really HD

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvWjNYja8xA

The payload had 8 cameras 3 power banks, 6 voltage regulators, 1 actuator and 2 trackers. One camera was a Fly360 x 240 camera.

Back to the tracker:

https://www.byonics.com/mt-2000

Here is what they say:

The Micro­Trak 2000 (MT2K) is a frequency agile, 2 Watt, programmable miniature APRS (Automatic Position Reporting System) transmitter utilizing a TinyTrak3 controller chip and is capable of operating from 144 to 148 MHz.

Just plug in a GPS receiver, such as the Byonics GPS5, add a SMA antenna, and start tracking!

  • No need to tie up an expensive radio for APRS tracking
  • Simple 2 wire GPS connection
  • Supports all the latest Byonics TinyTrak3 features.

Note the special GPS block in the picture below. That is what to look for:

Byonics MT2000 APRS Tracker

APRS Tracker Failures – Why?

We could not get an answer to this question because we are simply too good at recovering the units.

We insulate them with bubble wrap, but the super low temperatures in the jet stream (-50ish C) seem to affect the devices over time. Several have died. When I asked Byonics the question as to why, it appears no one can answer me. It seems customers always loses their trackers and we seem to only notice this problem because we have never lost a payload and keep using them. It looks like they only last about 10 flights with super low temperatures and super low pressure. If this works as expected, then I will have to order more. Everyone else loses them by this time. I expect it is a temperature issue and we will try and compensate of update our units after about 7 flights.

Configuring your APRS Tracker

The important parameters to specify for preconfiguration when ordering from Australia for a MT2000 balloon tracker are:

Your HAM radio Call Sign with the appropriate SSID. Mine is VK2URB-11

The Digi Repeater parameters:  WIDE 1-1

The Australian APRS frequency:  145.175MHz

Transmit interval:  every 20 seconds – no receiver check

Symbol:  /o balloon

Any appropriate text:  mine is “UpLift Balloon”. Keep it short as it makes the transmit packet bigger.

Watch out – other countries use different frequencies

World Moon Bounce day collage

STEM/STEAM and Wotzup

Jason delivering 18 lectures in 3 days at AlburySTEM/STEAM Power at WotzUp

Good Facebook friend Peter Ellis from Canberra in Australia attended a Wireless Institute of Australia Conference in Canberra that was address STEM/STEAM and HAM radio. He posted on my Facebook page:

“AREG.org.au talked about Horus flights, etc. I mentioned your efforts”.

my response (below) sounds like I was criticising Peter a bit for singing my praises, but I was not. I just wanted a group that was there to tell their story to have a go as they have done a great job over the years pushing HAM radio and balloon flight. They were there before me and have had an exciting time with nearly 40 flights so far. The group has changed a lot, but that does not matter, the opportunity for STEM/STEAM goes

So What is STEM/STEAM Education?

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. STEAM adds in the arts. I think that we need a balance and that comes from the arts – making the rest less sterile.

The AREG guys from South Australia where there to tell the story of their contribution to STEM and HAM radio. I guess that I should have been there to tell of the work that I was doing if I had had the time. I am the one at fault and the the AREG team do not want to hear about me doing stuff too in the same area at the end of their presentation. We all love and believe in STEM or STEAM.

What does WotzUp do for HAM Radio and STEM/STEAM

Peter’s  question at the end of their talk has prompted me to let others know what my son and I do to help in this area. I put it to you as a challenge to do better and to help kids all over the world grow and be inspired.

Well first and most obvious is this website. It is a place where we post what we are doing for others to learn and make their own dreams and bring them to reality. There are other websites too, like http://projectthunderstruck.org  We really try to communicate our efforts.

As for balloons payloads / flights to the Stratosphere, I am directly responsible for 1/3 of all balloon flights in Australia at the moment and altogether 1/2 of all flights due to mentoring so many teams. This figure comes from a source in the Civil Aviation Safety Authority of Australia.

Here are a few highlights of what we are doing with STEM/STEAM. This would have been my contribution if I had had the time to attend the Canberra Conference:

In 2009 on the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11, I and another US guy put on World Moon bounce day where kids around the world spoke Jamboree of the air style via bouncing signals off the moon using 30-60m dishes. The Uni of Tas – with an old NASA dish that was in use at the time of the Apollo landing – Orroral Valley – broke world records for the smallest signal to every be bounced of the moon and decoded successful by another site on the earth. 3mW!

Echoes of Apollo? What is That? It was simply the website that preceded the WotzUp website. Because I did not own the domain name, all the stories and content are lost. None the less some of these videos survived. The World Moon Bounce Day remains one of the biggest successes of HAM Radio and STEM?STEAM The work to organise such an event was impossible to maintain, but the two years that we made it happen was amazing. 

The next year in 2010 we were given Arecibo for three days as we did it all again. World Moon Bounce day nearly became World Moon Bounce Week

World Moon Bounce day collage

gunghlin College student with the very light weight recovered payload - mainly foamJust last week Jason and I flew UpLift 29, supporting a very progressive Canberra School. It is a public high school – Gungahlin College. It was a mechatronics class and it was Australia’s first steerable parachute flight in the stratosphere. I placed 4 risk assessments to CASA for that and did it at cost for the physical stuff. The school felt I was undercharging and paid me a further $300 dollars that I pretty much donated to the Rankins Springs primary school – a regional primary school right opposite the field that we so often use. I like giving back to the community and forging a link to science and the public school seemed a good idea. We give the odd lecture at the school too.

Gunghlin College Mecgatronics Students about to recover their payload from 33Km altitude 100m away.

HAM Radio Repeaters in Central NSW

Jason and I almost got stuck on a slick and rutted road in Central NSW surveying radio towers.More STEM/STEAM directly for HAM purposes: We use so much radio that I am personally about to put a lot of radio repeaters in my balloon launch area to support the work that I do when amateur radio is appropriate. It is also to provide the local community a way of connecting to others that is not possible without the infrastructure being there. The repeaters will be solar powered and donated by me. I believe that the first will be on a small peak to the NE of Weethalie NSW and it will form a link that will cover the road between West Wyalong and Rankins Springs. It may be usable as far away as Griffith with a good yagi. The site will also support APRS contacts and transport them to the web. This will be a real asset in times of flood and fire. It will be able to support STEM activities if HAM radio support is there. I spoke to the President of the WIA about this only 4 weeks ago – Phil Wait. Phil is a friend and I worked with him some 40 years ago.

Jason Brand and Dr Barry Jones - past Science Minister

Jason and and Dr Barry Jones – past Science Minister

Junior STEM/STEAM: I nearly forgot to mention that Jason gave 18 lectures in three days when he was 10 years old – for Science Week in Australia. We traveled a day by car to Albury (and a day back at the end of the lectures). We even launched a balloon on the last day and tracked with with HAM radio APRS as he gave the lectures to students from all over the region. Some in year 12. He was in year 6 – seriously. He had his HAM radio license earlier in the year when he was 9 years old. As you can see, we are a hugely STEM focused family binging HAM radio to the community and to kids especially.

Jason’s story about Albury and the event down there is on this link:

http://wotzup.com/2013/10/jason-delivers-18-lectures-3-days/

I do not begrudge Horus getting there time in the spotlight, they are a fantastic group giving back to the community and I sure as hell don’t need the pat on the back, but the true picture of STEM work in the HAM community is not known by those in the HAM community. Just because people were not able to attend does not mean that there are not other amazing stories that remain untold. This is just one example. There are many others working hard to bring STEM/STEAM HAM radio to students. As I said, Phil at the WIA knows about my proposed my HAM radio repeater work and he is looking at a band plan to cover off on a new type of repeater configuration that will cover more than one state in Multicast mode. The WIA are currently writing a story on the Mars mission that we are doing. Making HAM radio relevant is the big deal and STEM/STEAM connects with students. Students are the target of HAM radio to stay functional. Having enough users to ensure that the bands don’t get removed for other purposes is a real self interest aspect of all of this. Nothing wrong with that so long as we all realise the self interest of STEM/STEAM and the benefits that a self interested group can contribute to. It is wonderful, the linkages work so well and provide benefit both ways – that is when things really work well.

Thanks for the mention at the conference, but no one would have a clue about what Jason and I do…

Mars Quad Rotor Test Flight Murdoch University PlusComms HABworxSTEM/STEAM events for next year include flying a 4 rotor Mars flier at 34Km altitude in a bit of a partnership with Murdoch Uni (WA). HAM radio will be at the heart of this.

http://wotzup.com/2016/07/new-mars-flight-challenge/

Sydney uni has a stratospheric blimp that also want to work with me to test at 34Km – a small version of our StratoDrone essentially. Again HAM radio.

As for the testing of the Mars Median mission, I have put it to the WIA that we may have a HF radio event to focus attention on the work Australia is doing in space. The site will be a salt lake where we are doing the drop testing. Plenty of scope for STEM/STEAM in all these events.

Like I said., Do better. I am always, always happy for others to do better than Jason and myself. We are not the high water mark, but we know that we do a lot. Tells us what you do to promote STEM/STEAM.

The Sound of Flight

UpLift-28 ReleaseUpLift-28, Please Sound Off.

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

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

http://www.haineshinterding.net/category/haines/

http://www.haineshinterding.net/category/hinterding/

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

A Sound Idea

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

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

UpLift-28 payload sound systems preparationA Sound Launch

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

Rankins Springs Frost

Frost on the ground – Coldest launch yet.

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

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

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

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

UpLift-28 Release of sound recording payload

A Sound Flight

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

Prediction for 2016-07-16_2 UpLift-28

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

 

Prediction for UpLift-28

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

UpLift-28 Actual Flight.

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

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

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

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

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

A Not so Sound Descent

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

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

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

Uplift-28 Parachute twisted shut.

Jason holding the useless balloon (above)

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

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

UpLift-28 payload ready to take back to cars

UpLift-28 Payload packed and ready

UpLift-28 Robert and Jason Brand toasting success.

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

Our Growing Tracking Ability

Our Pajero Tracking VehicleJan 2016

Pajero Tracking Vehicle Update

So lets look at what my son, Jason (14), and I have done and are doing about our tracking vehicle. We will have more, but we are planning on at least having our 4WD SUV ready for anything that is headed our way, but tracking is all important. Note that this tracking article appeared on our Project ThunderStruck website some months ago. read more

Lessons from UpLift-20

Weather balloon burst

What a burst weather balloon should do! Disintegrate

UpLift-20 Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Jason, our 12 year old pilot for Project ThunderStruck is no stranger to having to prepare for the worst and it is what we do every time we send up a payload on a high altitude balloon. Our last flight of a balloon into the stratosphere was a case of just that. Two failures. One on launch and the second on decent. Each problem would be enough to cause most balloon payloads to be lost, but as part of our preparations, we carried two trackers for the one flight. This was a flight in preparation for our project and we are testing. We have had to cover our payload in the video. Our apologies.

Below: An artist’s view of the ThunderStruck aircraft under a zero pressure balloon (more on that another time) at 40km altitude. You may have guessed, I am the artist….. Note that on the ThunderStruck event, we will not be using weather balloons so there will be no unexpected explosions.

Balloon Flight with ThunderStruck

Failure One

The first failure was totally invisible to us. A massive downdraft. The first that we have ever encountered. Uplift-1, our first flight, started in an updraft and it rose at an incredible rate for the first kilometre. In the video below, you can hear me make the comment that there did not appear to be the lift that we knew we had because we had used scales to measure the lift. We could not feel the downdraft pushing the balloon down 15 metres above our heads. I mistakenly thought my lack of “feel” was because of the others also holding the payload. We released the payload and balloon and then our hopes sank as the payload only lifted slowly and then sank back to the ground. We ran to catch it, but it rose again and caught on the edge of the eve of the roof of a nearby wheat silo. It stayed there for only 2 minutes, but it felt like an eternity before it released. It rose quickly as calculated, but one tracker had had its GPS unit disconnected and the other had its antenna twisted 90 degrees effectively lowering the power considerably. None the less we could still track the flight – mostly.

One tracker disabled, but still sending its ID at full power, The other effectively made to look low power. Those GoPro cameras are great. hundred of metres above the ground you can hear (faintly) people talking and a dog barking! They make great gear.

Failure Two

The weather balloons are meant to explode and disintegrate. This one did not. The entire balloon, well over 1Kg fell into the parachute and tangled itself in the chute, effectively making the mass look like more like a tangled flag than a parachute. It slowed the payload in the thick air, but the fall from its maximum height was rapid and the entire fall from 30km only took 15 minutes. This was an average speed of 120kph. Given that the payload probably hit the ground at 30 to 40kph, the initial speed was probably close to 400kph in the thin upper air.

With the tracker only giving us effectively a poor signal, the last track that we received in one of the vehicles headed to the landing site was 2 km above the ground making the landing site potentially one square kilometre.  We also fond out later that the second tracker was never going to give us a signal, because the impact had caused a battery to eject from its holder. We only had one ID every 20 seconds and no GPS location! We used a directional antenna to lead us to the payload, but it was a slow and painful task.

The video below shows the impact and the wooden spars breaking. The camera continued to record! Nothing like a good wiring system to ensure that power kept flowing from the external battery. I did not mention that we use external batteries. The GoPro’s batteries, even with the additional power pack, just do not last for the entire flight if it goes over 2.5 hours and especially if it is taking both videos and stills – The new GoPros are amazing, but need more power for High Altitude Balloon (HAB) flights.

Initially the video above shows the incredible stability of our payload at 30km altitude. The Balloon explodes at the 30 second mark and then plummets and spins at a sickening rate of a  couple of times a second with the disabled chute causing the spin.  At 1 minute 45 seconds, we cut to an altitude of about 3km and it took 3 minutes to hit the ground at 60kph. At the 4:45 mark, the payload hits and spars shatter. The camera keeps recording. By the way, the big tree lined road is the Mid Western Highway. The payload was kind enough to land in a sheep paddock beside the main road. You can’t ask for better.

The Lesson

The lesson here is that if it can go wrong, it will go wrong. Yes, we have recovered every payload that we have sent up, but good preparations both in the payload design and build is important as are the preparations for recovery on the ground. We even carry poles to remove the payload from trees. We can manage 14 metre trees. After that we will have to look at other methods.

Our preparations will be backup, backup and more backup. Redundancy rules over weight considerations where possible. Systems will be over-engineered and more care will be taken than what appears necessary. Project ThunderStruck will fly while the world watches. Delays will be unacceptable. This was UpLift-20 and again we have 100% successful recovery rate. @0 flown and 20 recovered. As our flights become more aligned to the actual shape of the ThunderStruck aircraft, speeds will dramatically increase on decent and the videos will have way more interesting stuff to show, but these lessons were there to remind us not to get complacent.

Zero Pressure Balloon Converter

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWeather Balloon to Zero Pressure Balloon Converter.

By Robert Brand

Two weeks ago I was a guest lecturer in Aerospace at a Sydney University spoke about the current space projects I am involved in. It was good to see interest from some students to take part in some of the activities. I stayed on to listen to the second guest lecturer talk about high energy particles and there effects on astronauts and also equipment.

Following the lectures I was invited to talk about a difficult project of taking a science experiment to the stratosphere and holding it there for 3 hours. Now this creates a real challenge. It can either be done by a seriously expensive Zero Pressure Balloon (ZPB), shown in the picture at right, or it needs some way of holding a weather balloon below it burst point, both are not ways i would like to think about. Either big dollars or big problems.

My solution is to turn the Weather Balloon into a ZPB before the envelope pops and the lot comes down. I have designed a Weather Balloon to Zero Pressure Balloon Converter. Due to the commercial ramifications, I cannot give the fine details of the specific way we will do this or the materials used, but as you will obviously realise, it means opening up the balloon canopy so the helium (or Hydrogen) stops expanding the balloon fabric thus the balloon should then find a floating point, provided that the canopy is not too elastic.

Since this will require additional weight and we need to get extreme height to be in the stratosphere at a required altitude and we don’t want the risk of the canopy bursting early, I expect that it will require 2-3Kg weather balloons. Not cheap, but way less than ZPB that probably start at a price of US$7,000 or so.

Now for the hard part. We will need to test to see exactly what happens and how to control the eventual height based on gas fill, elasticity of the balloon, the balloon size / weight and the payload size.

The balloon should survive until next morning in the stratosphere when the sun’s UV will cause the envelope to deteriorate along with the punishment it has received during the night. Given that it is not fully stretched, it may in fact last much longer. This will the subject of more testing.

The next problem is that the stratospheric winds run east to west – the opposite of the jet stream – yes there is balance in the world! the difference is (from our experience over Australia) that the wind starts out light and then increases with strength at height. Several times we have seen stratospheric winds reaching 100kph at altitudes of 33.333Km (/3 the way to space). As that is our highest record and we have been involved in flights by others to that height, it seems a fairly linear increase over height and it may get faster at higher altitude. Only tests will tell, but 3 hours at 33.33Km is a long drive. It means carefully planning our launch points and recovery points. In fact we may need to launch on days when the jet stream is fast to drag the payload a long way to the east (say 150km and then allow the winds in the stratosphere to pull it 300Km to the west and allow it to fall back through the jet stream with a big parachute, allowing time to pull the payload back to near the launch point.

With radio cutdown an option, we need to be close enough for that to work on UHF frequencies of to create a HF cutdown on much lower radio frequencies that will travel further.

Weather to ZPB converterAs APRS is not an option on commercial flights, We will use SPOT3 units in gimbals for the commercial tracking. For non commercial flights I have toyed with the idea of using the HAM radio based APRS to upLink commands for cutdown. As a final cutdown I am looking at a time based mechanism to terminate the envelope or cut down the payload. More testing!

As a  teaser, the photo to the right is some of the “plumbing” without the servo and other systems. It is intentionally difficult to see, but the point is that it is off the shelf technology that is very light weight. In fact not all of this mechanism flies – some is only there for the “fill” and another device (not shown) makes the final configuration. When the cutdown occurs, we will lose the servo and the plumbing – a total cost of about US$15. Total weight of equipment lost will be in the order of 200 grams and the balloon envelope will also be able to fall to earth but since it will not be blown to pieces, it will flutter to a soft landing. I expect to have a number of the mechanisms ready and off the shelf to provide services to customers that wish to have low cost long times in the stratosphere. Note, that if we can keep the payload closer to the lower parts of the stratosphere, the drift is negligible from our general experience for a three hour duration in the stratosphere.

Other benefits here are a new easy fill system that requires no more struggling with cable ties at the last moment while holding on to a big balloon. I expect that we will use a smaller version for smaller balloons. The weight is likely to be an additional 50 grams that we can factor in, but the benefits will be great in securing the payload and ensuring an easy and safe tie off in the final moments. Once we test that I will publish the arrangements. More on the Zero Pressure Balloon Converter in future posts.

UpLift-2

Australian Student (12) to Attempt Breaking the Sound Barrier with Radio Controlled Aircraft

UpLift-2Jason Brand to Attempt Breaking the Sound Barrier with Model Aircraft.

In the next 12 months, Jason Brand will attempt to break the sound barrier. He is a 12 year old student from Sydney Secondary College, Balmain Campus and is a regular kid with a passion for aerospace. Not surprising as his father, Robert Brand, is one of Australia’s leading space entrepreneurs.

The event will be a huge media attraction as nothing like this has been attempted before, especially by a 12 year old Student. It will consist of a zero pressure balloon ride by the aircraft to nearly 40Km altitude. The aircraft will be released and immediately be placed into a vertical dive as Jason pilots the vehicle by remote control. He will be wearing goggles that will allow him to see the view from the cockpit and all the important instrumentation. This Point Of View (POV) feed and possibly a HD feed will be available for a live feed for the media during the event. HD TV images will be recorded in memory aboard the aircraft.

pressure wavesJason has been studying supersonic wind flow over the control surfaces and the the loss of laminar flow away from control surfaces. Add to this the drag of shock waves. He and his father have come up with a design that has minimal laminar flow issues and low drag to ensure that Jason can maintain control as the aircraft exceeds the sound barrier by as much as possible. He has also been studying Mcr and Mdr and P and a whole lot of other important factors . Look them up! Yes the flight will be similar to the original sound barrier flights by pilots such as Chuck Yeager.

The flight will involve shifting the centre of gravity during the super sonic and sub sonic flight stages and retracting the supersonic spike during normal flight. The craft will be using an ITAR controlled GPS system that is capable of operating at well over the speed of sound. Video feeds will be available for the press in real time and HD video will be stored on the aircraft in memory as will be the GPS sampling.

UpLift-1 Launch with Jason BrandJason’s interest in “what’s up there” dates back to 2009 when he was 9 years old. His father decided to launch a weather balloon to the stratosphere and recover the payload and the camera. It was a great success. They launched the first balloon from the sleepy town of Rankin Springs in central NSW. They chased the balloon with radio tracking and the flight progress, with Google terrain was broadcast on the Internet during the flight. The jet stream was slow that day and they were sitting in the shade having lunch when the balloon burst at 24Km and the payload started its decent. After a few lessons in getting to the right field through a maze of gates and fences, they recovered their first payload. Today, Jason, along with his father are veterans of 18 flights and 18 recoveries. a 100% record and they intend keeping that way through science. The picture above is Jason picking up a video camera from a payload while the still camera just happened to snap his picture. After the first balloon flight he got his Foundation Amateur Radio Operators License (HAM) by doing a course at the Waverley Amateur Radio Club. He is now passionate about radio systems in regards to assisting with his goals in Aerospace.

IMG_1883His love balloon flights and model aircraft has grown. He recently designed and built a 1.5 horsepower tricopter which can lift 2Kg of load. He has also traveled to Croatia at the invitation of Team Stellar. Jason is the Australian Student Representative for Team Stellar – a Team in the Google Lunar X-Prize. He and his father (Head of Communications, Tracking and Data for Team Stellar) were invited to Croatia to launch Student payloads into the stratosphere – a difficult task in such a small country where the need to keep the balloon and payload within the borders is paramount. Add to that the large amount of forested land, swamps and mountains; not to mention the massive problem of leftover land mines from the recent wars with bordering countries. The flights were using the largest balloons and achieved a height of over 30Kms, one reaching 33.33km – one third of the way to space.

Jason spoke in front of many scientists, teachers  and engineers over recent years including Teachers at Science Week in Albury, Engineers Australia and the Skeptics group in Croatia. He has appeared on TV in Croatia and Australia. Below is a recent interview of a major balloon event in Croatia where Jason was a key person in the project.

The attempt will cost $60,000 and he is seeking sponsorship. One Sydney University has offered assistance and resources such as wind tunnel testing. The attempt will be with CASA approval and may be required to be located away from most air traffic in remote areas of Australia.

If you are interested in sponsoring the event please contact via homepc@rbrand.com

Media Contact: Robert Brand (International) +61 448 881 101   (national) 0448 881 101

Track a Pico Balloon flight

Pico Flight prediction

Pico Flight prediction

Scheduled Pico Balloon Flight Monday 9th June 2014

My friend Andy will be sending a Balloon aloft from his home town of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia this Monday and it is headed initially north then east over the Pacific Ocean. I expect that it is headed to New Zealand and beyond.

Andy says:

Hi,

FYI, PS-9 PICO balloon release is planned for Monday morning

10mW transmit power, 

THOR16 with RTTY on 434.500Mhz

APRS on 2m band.

APRS call sign: VK3YT-11

Tracking as PS on spacenear.us

Will be in #picospace IRC channel on freenode.net

 http://webchat.freenode.net/?channels=picospace

 Andy

Note that the flight needs to head North or it will end up too low by the time it reaches New Zealand! Andy is looking at Jet Stream predictions to ensure that it heads north before it begins its easterly track. The APRS frequencies are different in each country and Andy’s transmitter is able to change frequencies by using GPS co-ordinates to know where it is. I believe that this is also using a small solar panel to keep it active. South America, here he comes!

Also the spacenear.us website will probably only list his flight an hour or so before departure.

You can watch the APRS tracking at http://aprs.fi  and use the call sign VK2YT-11 Isn’t Amateur Radio (HAM radio) wonderful?

He made it to New Zealand twice now, so South America is next!

Pico Flight prediction

Pico Flight prediction

Record Balloon (HAB) Attempt

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAustralian or International Record High Altitude Balloon (HAB) Attempt?

It seems that some HAB friends along with my son Jason and I are going to attempt a Balloon (HAB) record. It may be an Australian record or an International record. The only question remaining is how we will do the attempt. It is a serious question and looks like it will be either a self funded exercise or one of good timing. As many of you know, Jason and I assist with commercial launches through my company, PlusComms. Several customers in the very near future will be  making flights using zero pressure balloons. These are amazing balloons that do not burst like weather balloons. They simply are huge envelopes that expand to their maximum size and any excess gas vents from the bottom of the envelope. They often look under-filled when the are launched and then as they ascend and the gases expand, the balloon fills to capacity. Right: is a small Zero Pressure Balloon from Raven Industries in the US. Alternately we can use a 3kg weather balloon. The record may be altitude, distance or both.

So we have 2 options:

  • A 3Kg weather balloon
  • Hitching a ride on a Zero Pressure balloon

3Kg Weather Balloon.

UpLift-1 ready to launch with help from the locals at Rankins SpringsThese are the domain of amateur balloon enthusiasts. Smaller balloons are affordable as are parachutes and trackers. By the time you travel to a good launch site, the exercise may cost US$500. These balloons are like standard party balloons. They are sealed envelopes and they expand until they explode. That is UpLift-1; our first flight: pictured on the right. 3Kg is the weight of the balloon alone. UpLift-1 carried a 500 gram payload (1 pound) and the balloon and parachute cost me US$75

By under-filling a 3kg balloon for a slow rise and making the payload a simple tracker, we would expect over 40km altitude. By using Hydrogen, we would get a lot higher. The cost of the balloon alone with shipping is over US$500. Our attempt would cost close to US$900 when we factor petrol, balloon gas and accommodation. Possible maximum altitude would be close to 45km or nearly half the way to space (100km by most definitions). At some stage the balloon would explode and the flight would terminate. We would not recover the tracker unless it fell into a very accessible place. It would either explode or float without exploding. Either way the balloon would soon explode within 24 to 48 hours as the strong UV destroys the Latex material.

I buy my balloons from a UK seller:

Balloon Sales: http://randomengineering.co.uk/Random_Aerospace/Balloons.html

Zero Pressure Balloon

This is a serious high altitude balloon. A small one weighs nearly 20kg (41 pounds) and will reach 135,000 feet / 41km with a 7kg payload. One is pictured top right. What we are planning (if we get permission from one of the customers) is to cut away the paying payload and continue the flight with a smaller amateur payload designed to do two things:

  • Rise further without a payload to over 45km
  • Stay aloft for many days or weeks traveling around the world

2014-02-08--01-11-07-PSPI-8C9The secondary payload would have a communications package with a satellite modem to get back reports on the half hour and as requested. It will also be able to terminate the balloon envelope by command if required. During the night time, the balloon descends as the air cools. If the gas levels are low (leakage over time) it may descend into controlled airspace and it will need to be terminated. We will use solar power and rechargeable batteries and it will engage with local HAM radio operators with UHF RTTY capability and a frequency agile APRS transmitter. This is because there are different frequencies used for APRS in different countries. We may also have slow scan images from the balloon sent via RTTY packets. The images are broken up into 60 to 70 packets and sent with sequential RTTY transmissions. If sent back to the server, these are assembled back into an image. Any missing packets are left as grey or coloured bands. That is the example on the right with two missing packets. This was from a recent HAB flight conducted by my good friend Andy from Melbourne. Jason and I helped with both the launch and recovery.

With hydrogen, we may approach or exceed the 50kg mark and may exceed the maximum altitude of any object in the world other than rockets passing through the atmosphere.  The world record for HAB flights is 53km. We are now designing and building the equipment for flight. We are looking forward to flying with one or both of these missions.

As the customers may have unusual schedules or issues with secondary payloads, we may need to raise some funding through Kickstarter or similar to make this a reality. Minimum funding needed is US$15K.

 

 

Balloon flight Payload Recovered

High Altitude Balloon Success. Payload Recovered.Andy PS1 Preparing to fly

Jason and I went to Deniliquin NSW (Australia) to help a good friend, Andy from Melbourne, launch and recover a high altitude balloon / payload. I am part of Team Stellar going for the Google Lunar X-Prize (GLXP). I am in charge of Communications, Tracking and Data. Jason (11) is their Australian Student Representative. Jason and I have launched and recovered 16 payloads to date and assisted with others and we love High Altitude Balloons (HABs).

I brought my fellow Team Stellar member, Tim Blaxland and his son Rhys (9) along for the experience. Tim is Stellar’s chief of Navigation. The launch was at Deniliquin and we traveled part of the way there on Friday and the rest early on Saturday morning to be there for a 9:30 start. It was an 8 hour drive and we intended to do another 8 hours back later on Saturday after we recovered the payload.

Fellow HAB enthusiast Todd Hampson also traveled from Sydney in his own vehicle. it was great that we all arrived at the designated point in a timely fashion and started the final preparations for launch. Other than Tim and Reece, we all have Amateur Radio licenses and on this flight we would have 2m APRS tracking system. See earlier posts about APRS. In addition there was also RTTY on UHF. The RTTY system s available for non amateur radio hobbyists to use.

Andy had a video camera camera hooked up to a Raspberry Pi unit. Its job was to break up the video into smaller packets of data and send it along with the RTTY GPS information. The pictures are then sent to a server on the internet and the packets reassembled into a complete picture if all of the packets are received. The transmitter is very low powered and many people set up their equipment to help receive and download the images. Below is an image from the flight. The grey strips are missing packets that no one managed to receive successfully.

Note that at this time of the year, the wheat and other crops  have been harvested and the temperatures are in the 40C range at times. With little rain, the fields are a brown cover. The dark areas are either farms with crops still growing or trees around the rivers that flow through the region.

Andy PS1 flight Deniliquin NSW

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The photo is only from a low resolution camera but the payload also carried a GoPro that took photos. The top image is a small section from the flight camera while it was on the ground.

Here are the details that Andy distributed before the flight:

FYI, there will be a HAB launch from Deniliquin NSW this weekend, Sat 8th Feb 2014 at 11am EST.

 Payloads will be:
– SSDV RTTY 300baud, 450Hz shift, 8N1, 434.650Mhz (+- drift) USB, 25mW quarter-wave antenna
– APRS 1200b 145.175Mhz 100mW with dipole antenna
– Cutdown RTTY 100baud, 450Hz shift, 8N1, 432.220Mhz (+- drift) USB, 25mW downlink, quarter-wave antenna.
RTTY tracking will be on spacenear.us, callsigns PS and PSPI
SSDV images will be uploaded to ssdv.habhub.org, callsign PSPI
APRS tracking will be on aprs.fi, callsign VK3YT-11

The temperature was 42C / 108F for much of the day and UV protection was essential. Recovery was easy, so we did not have an issue with tracking through the forests looking for the payload.

The flight lasted around 2hrs 50mins, reached max altitude of 36,789m / 120,699ft / 22.9 miles  before the balloon burst and landed in a paddock.

The following images were transmitted whilst in flight:

2014-02-08--01-11-07-PSPI-8C9 2014-02-08--01-43-42-PSPI-8CB2014-02-08--02-04-48-PSPI-8CC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2014-02-08--02-44-03-PSPI-8CE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last image was taken close to maximum altitude.

GoPro3 images in the next post. Below, the flight path from left to right. The tropospheric winds (Jet Stream) where pushing the balloon to the eastand the stratospheric winds blew us west . When the balloon burst, the winds eventually took us east again as we passed through the Jetstream.

The Flight PS1 Map The Flight PS1 terrain

 

Live images from Balloon Flight

Balloon FligAndy Flight still images from balloonI-896ht Scheduled Jan 8th 2014

My friend Andy from Melbourne, Australia is launching a balloon tomorrow. It is expected that the balloon will be sending back live images from over 30km altitude. We will be launching from the NSW country town of Deniliquin at 10am EDST. That is 2300Z Jan 7th.

I will be there with Jason assisting as will a few other of the regulars.

Andy Writes:

Hi Robert,

 Here are some info for the launch:

– Payloads will include SSDV, APRS, RTTY and cutdown

– balloon tracking positions will be uploaded to spacenear.us

– SSDV images will be uploaded to ssdv.habhub.org.

– Expected altitude is more than 33km

You can track the Balloon on APRS on http://aprs.fi  – I will send the callsign later as a comment on this page

Jason and i will be leaving about 1 hour after I post this story. You can track us on the APRS service with the callsign of  VK2URB-7 as we travel to Deniliquin. We will probably stop on the way at a motel!

Jason Delivers 18 Lectures in 3 Days

UpLift-16 AlburyScience Week at Albury, Australia 2013

I was delighted when the organisers of the Border Stargaze and Science Fair invited Jason and myself to deliver 18 x 30 minute talks over three days to both public school students and high school students. I threw Jason in the Deep end and told him, it was his job to deliver the talks. We were also asked to fly a small balloon with just a tracking payload. It was designated sequentially in our UpLift series as UpLift-16. We were not planning on recovering the tracker, but with our record of recovery, it seems that we were destined to even get this one returned to us. That was mentioned in an earlier post. See: Australians Applying to CASA for a HAB Flight More on that later.

Here is a bit about the event:

Border Stargaze and Science Fair

The event is open to all ages, the wider community, schools and amateur astronomers. The Border Stargaze has grown over the past 7 years and with it the annual Science Fair. It is event such as these that have inspired individuals, groups, schools, the community and universities in our region.

When: Monday, August 12 2013 till Sunday, September 8 2013. 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM
Where: Albury, NSW, 2640
What: Festival, Hands-on activity, Talk / Lecture
Theme: Energy and transport, Environment and nature, Health and medical, Space and astronomy, Innovation and technology
We drove down from Sydney – a solid 6 hour drive and of course we had to drive back after the event. They had offered to fly us there, but the amount of gear we needed even for the simplest balloon flight and props for the lectures was too much to fly to Albury. Jason Delivered 18 Lectures in 3 Days.
We left after School on Monday afternoon and got to Albury late Monday ready for the lectures the next morning. It was a great event and after a few talks with me assisting, Jason (11)  found his stride and he was delivering the talks like he had been doing them all his life. The subject was launching and recovering stratospheric balloons. We passed around the tools of the trade we use to get a high altitude balloon into the stratosphere. Balloons, parachutes, even the thin cord used to suspend the payload from the balloon and of course the GPS tracker.
On Thursday morning we got up before dawn on a very cold winters morning and headed out to the designated launch site. Although it was the required 5km from the airport we had to liaise with Albury airport because we were in the landing circuit. We had to release our balloon between landings. We were able to give the airport our tracking web page and they were able to monitor our balloons flight, ensuring adequate safety for those in the air. We successfully launched our small balloon and tracker – no parachute as it would fall slowly with its super-light weight bubble wrap cover. We only used the bubble wrap to insulate from the extreme cold of the jet stream. The winds would take the payload to the east and over inaccessible land. We did not expect to see the tracker again, but we did thanks to the host of Canberra Fuzzy Logic Science Show, Rod Taylor. We still have a 100% recovery record after 16 balloon flights. Rod’s trip to recover the payload will be in another post.

Jason and I have HAM radio licenses and we use a HAM radio compliant tracker for these flights. We are amateur radio operators, (nick named HAMs). Jason got his foundation license at age 9 because he wanted to help with the radio systems that we use to communicate. His license is not high enough to use the APRS (digital) systems, but I have a “full” license that allows me to use the systems. My call-sign is VK2URB and Jason’s is VK2FJAB. You can look up your local club on the Wireless Institute or Australia’s website and select “Radio Clubs” on their menu.

. Contact you local club for more information..
UpLift-16 Albury - before sunrise - it was cold
UpLift-16 Albury – before sunrise – it was cold
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UpLift-16 Albury - Preparations
UpLift-16 Albury – Preparations
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IMG_0076
UpLift-16 Albury – Preparations
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 UpLift-16 Albury - Preparation of the HAM Radio APRS Tracker
UpLift-16 Albury – Preparation of the HAM Radio APRS Tracker
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UpLift-16 Albury - Preparation of the HAM Radio APRS Tracker
UpLift-16 Albury – Preparation of the HAM Radio APRS Tracker
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Jason in Class with the balloon being tracked across country
Jason in class delivering a lecture with the balloon being tracked across country.
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  UpLift-16 Flight 01
UpLift-16 Flight over the lakes near Albury – Lake Hume on the right.
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UpLift-16 passing overt the old Honeysuckle Creek Dish Site.
 UpLift-16 passing overt the old Honeysuckle Creek Dish Site.
Note the harsh mountain forests and difficult terrain.
Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station brought the world
Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon  – Apollo 11

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UpLift-16 breaks our personal best altitude record.
UpLift-16 breaks our personal best altitude record.
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Jason Brand and Dr Barry Jones - past Science MinisterThe flight made it to well over 30km altitude and set down in a field near the Monaro Highway as the small village of Michelago. It was too easy to recover after avoiding so many impossible places. The classes that watched the tracking in class cheered every time we set a new record. Jason was also given the privilege of representing his school in Sydney and wore his school uniform – Leichhardt Public School (Y6)
Jason with Dr Barry Jones – Past Minister for Science and quiz show contestant extraordinaire. Now in his eighties, he is still a huge supporter of science and was a key note speaker at the Albury National Science Week event where Jason was a guess presenter. Jason was excited when Dr Jones mentioned that he had heard of Jason’s balloon flight that landed south of Canberra in the ACT. He said that it was lucky to land south as all the hot air would have kept it from landing in Canberra (full of politicians). — at Charles Sturt University.
Our return drive to Sydney on Thursday night was uneventful and Jason was back at school the next day. He did have to give the same talk to his Y6 students at his school.

UpLift-1 in the Sydney Morning Herald (Archives)

Sydney’s very own space agency: Brand and son

*** Recovered from the Archives ***

This excerpt from the Sydney Morning Herald, January 16, 2012. UpLift-1 in the Sydney Morning Herald

Sydney’s Space Agency

Sydney space enthusiast Robert Brand, with the help of local school students has built and launched a weather balloon a quarter of the way to space.

Sydney space enthusiast Robert Brand and his 9-year-old son Jason recently launched a high-tech weather balloon a quarter of the way to space, retrieving images and flight data to help school children get a better understanding about space.

Mr Brand, of Dulwich Hill, has a history with space – at age 17 he wired up some of the Apollo 11 communications gear in Sydney during his term break from college. He was also stationed at the CSIRO Parkes Observatory in New South Wales at the request of the European Space Agency for spacecraft Giotto’s encounter with Halley’s comet in 1986 and Voyager’s encounter with Uranus and Neptune in 1986 and ’89. Also under his belt is an award from NASA for support of STS-1, the first orbital flight of the Space Shuttle program, presented personally by the commander and moon walker John Young.

So when it came time for Mr Brand to launch his own gear towards space he was well prepared, documenting his do-it-yourself journey on his personal blog wotzup.com for other space enthusiasts to watch and track.

Jason and his father Robert celebrate retrieving their weather balloon, which captured data and images on a mission a quarter of the way to space.

Jason and his father Robert celebrate with ginger beer (soda/soft drink) after retrieving their weather balloon, which captured data and images on a mission a quarter of the way to space. Photo: Supplied

“[The balloon launch] was being done to help science education in the Sydney area and anywhere else in fact because we were publishing [on the internet] all of the information and data that we got from the balloon launch,” said Mr Brand, 59.

Launch day was December 28, 2011 from Rankins Springs near Goolgowi in Central NSW. As the balloon got up to about 85,000 feet (25.9 kilometres) above Earth before it burst, Mr Brand and his son tracked it using amateur radio.

“During the flight we were actually relaying data back to the ground and off to a server and that allowed people from all over the world to actually participate with this flight and track it as it was going,” Mr Brand said. “We were getting back a lot of comments on some of the social media [services] such as Facebook just really helping us understand what they were sort of getting out of the whole project. People were sort of yelling loudly if you could put it that way, on the [wotzup] website claiming ‘Hey, they’ve reached this height and that height’, and so there was a lot of really great audience participation in this.”

Robert and his son pump the weather balloon with helium before launch.

Robert and his son pump the weather balloon with helium before launch. Photo: Supplied

The data being sent back from the balloon – which was later recovered about 50 kilometres away from where it was launched – tracked altitude, position, rate of climb, payload temperature, payload voltage and air pressure, Mr Brand said. The balloon also has a camera on board that captured still images. “We could actually see as [the balloon] hit different wind levels in the atmosphere and eventually we got up into a jet stream and actually found that we had two jet streams,” Mr Brand added.

When the balloon finally popped it came hurtling back towards Earth at about 40 metres per second, according to flight data.

“So this thing was falling a bit like a brick would fall at ground level but it slowed down and eventually the parachute dropped it on the ground at about six metres per second,” Mr Brand said.


The view from 10,666 metres, the height at which commerical jets will normally fly at.

Photos from Robert and Jason Brand’s weather balloon flight

The view from 10,666 metres, the height at which commercial jets will normally fly at. Photo: Robert and Jason Brand

  • The view from 10,666 metres, the height at which commerical jets will normally fly at.
  • The view from 21,977 metres.
  • The view from 22,222 metres.
  • The view from 22,470 metres.
  • The view from 22,969 metres.
  • The view from 24,305 metres.
  • The view from 26181 metres.
  • The view from 300 metres.
  • The view from 3235 metres
  • The view from 4153 metres.

The balloon (payload) was put together with the help of senior students at Sydney Secondary College at Blackwattle Bay, who Brand sought to get involved with the project and tasked them with doing a whole stack of materials testing. They tested the Styrofoam and how it reacted in zero atmosphere as well as the glue, ensuring it would hold throughout the flight. “The students were putting these materials in a bell jar and sucking the air out of it . . . and checking all of the materials held together – and to protect some of the electronics from the very cold temperatures of about minus 50 Celsius we simply used bubble wrap. … You’d be surprised to know that bubble wrap doesn’t explode when it gets into pretty much zero atmosphere.”

What's in the box? Jason shows the weather balloon's payload.

The photos that came back from maximum altitude look “pretty much like that taken from a space shuttle”, Mr Brand said.

“So very dark skies looking at this very thin blue line around the Earth which is our atmosphere and protective layer. It’s a bit scary when you see that photo and realise how thin the Earth’s atmosphere really is.”

Picture right: What’s in the box? Jason shows the weather balloon’s payload. Photo: Supplied

When it came time to recover the balloon it was tracked to landing on a field near the small town of Weethalle in NSW, Mr Brand said. “There was nothing growing on it. It seemed to have been abandoned.”

After knocking on a farm door to no avail, he and his son entered the field to locate the balloon. After driving “pretty much right on top of it” it was recovered, allowing for the father and son duo to publish the photos it captured that weren’t sent back live but stored on the camera attached to the balloon.

Mr Brand hopes to do more balloon launches and get schools involved.

“I’ll keep doing this each year and trying to get . . . more interest in the school year earlier in the year. I’m very keen to hear from people that might be interested in getting involved.”

End of article: UpLift-1 in the Sydney Morning Herald

Team Stellar Business Card

Team Stellar (Archive)

Team Stellar Business CardTeam Stellar and The Google Lunar X Prize

*** Retrieved from Archives ***

Posted on by

by Robert Brand

Three years ago I had nothing to do with space other than Moon Bounce – using amateur radio to bounce signals off the moon and back to earth.

Today I just accepted the roll of manager for Communications, Navigation and Data (CND) for an attempt to land a probe on the moon and beam back video from a rover that has to travel 500m. The team is called Team Stellar and it is new. The team is in competition for the Google Lunar X Prize (GLXP). What is the GLXP? From their website:

The Google Lunar X PRIZE is igniting a new era of lunar exploration by offering the largest international incentive prize of all time. A total of $30 million in prizes are available to the first privately funded teams to safely land a robot on the surface of the Moon, have that robot travel 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send video, images and data back to the Earth. Teams must be at least 90% privately funded, though commercially reasonable sales to government customers are allowed without limit.

Team registration for the competition closed on December 31, 2010. There are currently 26 teams located around the world who are fundraising, mission planning, and building robots in a new race to the Moon — what we like to call, “Moon 2.0″. The teams have until the end of 2015 to get to the Moon, meet the prize objectives, and win the prize purses.

You can look at their website here: http://www.googlelunarxprize.org/

Team Stellar

As you may have noticed, registration had closed and that meant that the new players had to buy an old team to make this a reality. So who or what is the new Team Stellar?

You can look here: http://teamstellar.org

I am not on the site yet, but this will happen soon. This is the mission:

Apollo Landing Sites

Team Stellar is one of 25 teams competing for the Google Lunar X Prize and plans to send a robotic spacecraft to the Moon. The Google Lunar X prize is an international moon exploration challenge organized by the X Prize Foundation, and sponsored by Google, to land a robotic craft on the lunar surface, to travel at least 1,650 feet (500 meters) and send data and high definition images back to Earth. The first privately funded team to do this by Dec. 31, 2015, will receive the $20 million grand prize.

Team Stellar’s spacecraft and rover plan to navigate to the Moon, execute a soft landing on the surface, and conduct and extended exploration of the lunar surface all while streaming live 3D Stereoscopic High Definition video back to Earth.

KGo Aerospace and i7 Engineering are sponsoring Team Stellar and are driving the development of the spacecraft through strategic partnerships with other aerospace and technology companies around the United States. Team Stellar has partnered with i7 Engineering to development the rover vehicle and all supporting systems.

My company PlusComms, is also involved. It will be a partner. More on that later. It is early days and there is a lot to learn. I will be traveling around the world a lot with this role and I need to get lots of support for the navigation side of this!!!

Jamesburg Old Photos

Jamesburg - Counter weight in place 1967Jamesburg Historic Photos

I am have some background photos of Jamesburg Earth Station. My company, PlusComms, is still trying to but the site. We are working hard on financing at the moment so that we can build our deep space network.

These are some historic photos from the web showing Jamesburg’s past glory. The photos include one of the NASA racks used in support of the Apollo missions.

If you have some more that would be of interest, please let me know.

“Built just in time for Apollo 11 mission. It brought video, voice and data from the Honeysuckle Creek and Parkes stations back to the US via Moree in NSW Australia.”

From Jamesburg Earth Station – Comsat. Posted by Robert Brand on 10/15/2009 (18 items)

Generated by Facebook Photo Fetcher 2


Jamesburg Visit (Archives)

Visiting Jamesburg Earth Station (USA)

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AT&T’s Jamesburg Dish Visit – by Robert Brand

Jamesburg Visit

In early June 2012 I visited the Jamesburg site with the intention of surveying the site and turning it into a data centre. The site was abandoned by AT&T in 2002 following the attacks on the NY World Trade Center buildings. It was thought by AT&T that Jamesburg was too vulnerable to aircraft attack of a similar nature. I recently set up a company that is now looking to buy the site. The 2 day Jamesburg visit was like a trip back in time as many of the site’s offices and systems were still fully intact.

The picture above shows that the dish is still able to move as it was taken out of stow for a movie being made on site at the time of my visit. The large vertical appendage on the left of the structure is a covered stairway giving access to the upper rooms. Although the tracking system is still installed, the owner was using a manual controller. The tracking system is shown below (Note you can click on the images to enlarge them):

The halls are still filled with pictures of the Intelsat family that was worked by Jamesburg and the battery room still filled with batteries:

The power switchboard is also 100% active and capable of switching half a megawatt.

Below is the current owner (Jeff Bullis – r) with his nephew (Scotty – l) in the lunchroom as it was when it was vacated – fully operational and well appointed. I am in the picture on the right with the rather interesting map with 2 Australias. One showing the pacific Intelsat coverage and the other showing the Indian Ocean Intelsat coverage.

The site had a room filled with filling cabinets with every bit of AT&T correspondence. A Jamesburg fax cover sheet is seen below (left). The waveguide below the dish is able to swivel and transition from the vertical to the horizontal in the photo to the right.

I certainly remember working with Jamesburg regularly on day shift as the morning US TV news feed was sent to Paddington from Moree. It is amazing to think that this site was so completely abandoned 10 years ago. It is like using a time machine to go back to when it was operational. An amazing experience   More on Jamesburg in a future post.

A Visit to Honeysuckle Creek

hsk_1971_tnMy Return to Honeysuckle Creek

It had been 42 years since I visited Honeysuckle Creek. I was still a teenager at the time – 19 years old. I had just been working on comms for Apollo missions and had completed a lot of work wiring up comms for Apollo 11 gear at OTC Paddington. I had been on a pilgrimage to know ground zero zero for the reception of Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon – Honeysuckle Creek. Many may have been mislead by the movie “The Dish” that indicated that Parkes had been the site that brought us those first steps. It was Honeysuckle Creek. Parkes did bring us the majority of the moonwalk, just not Armstrong’s first steps. The dish was about 30m and now resides at the NASA Deep Space Centre in Tidbinbilla near Canberra.

I had come to Canberra with my son Jason who had just turned 11. It was a massive space weekend. We came down for the 40th anniversary of NASA’s 70m dish at Tidbinbilla. We visited Mt Stromlo, Had dinner with the Honeysuckle Creek staff and wives, we were live on Canberra’s Fuzzy Logic science show with Robert Brand, Jennie and Len Limpus at Honeysuckle Creek in 1971Rod Taylor (2XX) for a whole hour and then we went to visit the Honeysuckle Creek site. Only foundations and storyboards are left at the site, but we had our own tour guides and what guides they were! Some of the original staff that brought those moon pictures back to earth. This picture (above) is of a young Colin Mackellar who has created a fabulous history of the Honeysuckle Creek site and even the role that my government department (I worked for OTC(A)) played in the the Apollo missions.

I too have a photo from my visit in 1971. I went there with some friends and my new bright red Toyota Corolla. Honeysuckle Creek was out on Apollo Road in the mountains south west of Canberra and south of Tharwa.

Our trip to the site was very pleasant and easy to drive since the entire road was sealed when the NASA site was established in the 60s. It is a campground now and an absolutely beautiful place to visit. The open areas are still grass. John Saxon (Honeysuckle Creek staff) and Hamish Lindsay (Honeysuckle Creek staff) gave us a really great tour of the site, explaining the operations and what the staff had to do. Jason loved rubbing shoulders with those history makers and enjoyed the drive, tour and the entire weekend.

John Saxon and Hamish Lindsay ex Honeysuckle Creek staff

John Saxon and Hamish Lindsay – ex Honeysuckle Creek staff

To visit the Honeysuckle Creek site website: CLICK HERE

Below are some photos from our visit.


“This was the site of the dish that brought the world Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the Moon..”

From Honeysuckle Creek ACT. Moon Central. Posted by Robert Brand on 4/15/2013 (12 items)

Generated by Facebook Photo Fetcher 2


Queensland Spaceport on Radio

Rebecca McLaren ABC RadioRobert on Radio re: Queensland Spaceport

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

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

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

You can also use our flash player below:

Team Stellar Appointment (Archives)

PlusComms Square LogoRobert Brand Joins a Reformed Team Stellar

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Get the background on Team Stellar

Team Stellar is a Google Lunar X Prize contestant. This week I accepted the position of Director of Spacecraft Communications, Navigation and Data. My company PlusComms has accepted a partnering role in providing the communications for the Team Stellar moon mission. That is our new logo pictured above. PlusComms is involved in buying old Satellite Earth Stations and finding new roles for them. We expect that we will be doing this for Team Stellar.

PlusComms has a significant investment in new technology and it is fitting that the older technology also be used in the most modern of moon missions. Of course only the mechanics of the dish are suitable. The electronics, especially on the space communications side, all need to be upgraded. Many dishes are good for almost 100 years of operation if well kept.

MissionTrax CoverageMissionTrax is PlusComms Global Deep Space Network product and it should be providing 24 hour a day global coverage of the sky and space missions using both “S” band and “X” band communications with dishes that are approximately 30m in diameter.

We expect our US west coast site to be available for bookings in the next 6 months.

The diagram to the left is indicative only, but if well placed we will be even able to tack continuously in mid orbit out to Geostationary and past that to the planets.

Our US dish candidate can also track at 1 degree per second making communications with low earth orbit vehicles a reality.

Our US dish will have both Receive and Transmit capabilities. We expect it to support smaller dishes on site and a large data centre. Why am I talking about a company and its abilities in this page? Simply because it is a company built around my person push into the space sector. This website is about my personal interests and activities in space (and near space ballooning) and bringing you along for the ride. I love Do-It-Yourself space (DIY Space) and if I can do this, anyone can if they are motivated enough.

More on PlusComms here: http://pluscomms.com/space-comms/124-2/

Team Stellar

Team Stellar was an old entrant for the Google Lunar X Prize and it has slowed in its efforts to reach the moon. Recently an offer was made and the new Team Stellar arose from the ashes. This only happened ion the last couple of months. With good management and funding, it was easy to accept their offer of being involved in what will be an exciting mission.

Below is their video announcement from July this year detailing an outline of the team structure.

 

A more recent video explains the team makeup in more detail, but it was made a week ago before I had accepted the position with them.

I am pretty excited by all the potential of this team and what it has already accomplished. I will be keeping you all updated with a mission scheduled for 2 years time.

A bit more detail here: http://www.teamstellar.org

Success – UpLift-1 Recovered (Archives)

*** Retrieved from Archives *** Success – UpLift-1 Recovered

UpLift-1 Flies to 26.161km Altitude

A quick update to tell you of our success. My son Jason (9) and I did it – 26km up – 15 miles – For 15 minutes we probably had the highest thing on planet earth. We got about 1/4 the way to space! In the photo at right, that is Jason in the field with the balloon about to launch.

The weather was clear and the skies almost clear of clouds when we launched the UpLift-1 weather balloon from Rankins Springs near Goolgowi in central NSW (Australia). We were an hour late but had about 20% of the town out to help! I think that we were told that the area had about 120 people and Rankins Springs has about 50 residents.

The flight lasted about 2 hours 40 minutes and landed about 4 fields from the road and we had great difficulty in driving to the landing site.

During the flight, the electronics got to -12C (12F) and the outside temperature got down to about -50C (-58F). As it climbed out of the Jet Stream, the atmosphere warms up to a balmy 5C on a good day. The low temperature caused the battery voltage to drop to 5.2v on the normally 5.8v battery. After it warmed up on the ground, the battery voltage returned to 5.8 volts.

The maximum recorded altitude was 26.181km – 85896 feet – 16.2681 miles. More in a couple of days. Some photos below for hold you over until the full story can be posted. The tracking worked perfectly.

Launch Site:

Launch Site - Rankins Springs

Path:

UpLift-1 Fulll Path

Landing site (X):

UpLift-1 Landing site

Recovery:

UpLift-1 Recovery

Rejoicing with a ginger beer (soda/soft drink):

Jason and Robert Brand Recover UpLift-1

One of the recovered photos:

UpLift-1 Camera view

More in a couple of days…