Preparing for the Flight of ThunderStruck

Weather balloon burst

What a burst weather balloon should do! Disintegrate

ThunderStruck – Backup Preparations

Jason, our 12 year old pilot is no stranger to having to prepare for the worst and it is what we do every time we send up a payload. 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.

Fund Raising – Launch Your Payload to the Stratosphere

The view from 30Km over central NSWFund Raising Payloads to the Stratosphere

Normally, prices start from $3,000, but for the next few weeks we will take your payload to the Stratosphere for $1,200 – almost 1/3 of the normal price. We can do this by sharing the payload and taking three or four small payloads up on our specially designed payload frame. One camera for each payload is included and you can either do video or still images. For $400 more, we will include a second camera if you needed it and the batteries to power it for the entire flight from launch to landing.

Your payload will get to 26Km or more or we fly it again. We are now achieving 30-33km altitude regularly. We will track and recover your payload and provide you with the images or video from the camera. We will give you 4 weeks to publish your photos or video, but we will reserve the rights to also place the pictures or video on our websites. Again, for a small fee, you can also have full rights to the media. Payloads need to be about 200 grams or less, but with some more dollars we can carry more – we need to buy bigger balloons and more helium to compensate. a 3Kg balloon will cost well over $500!

We cannot guarantee the payload safety as there are always lakes and other things, but that will affect our equipment too. Any loses for any reason are unfortunate, but the best we will do is re-fly your payload if you provide a second payload. To easy your minds on the matter of losing payload, after 20 flights, we have always recovered the payload and that includes flights with problems from unforeseen accidents like invisible downdrafts. Mind you we build our payload frames well and they provide extraordinary results.

Clinton Toyota Space Chicken

Clinton Toyota Space Chicken

This is Clintons Toyota “Space Chicken” was on all the covers of the local newspapers and many other papers and media. The outcome far exceeded the cost of the project and the papers did both a pre and post story with pictures.

The quality of our photography is exceptional and this is a still from a video we took of the flight. It was taken at 33,333km.

Occasionally the press get involved in our flights and this may give you more exposure. The video below was taken in Croatia early in 2014. We are well known all over the world. The two flights that took off from the centre of Zagreb were the first to be launched in the country and carrier student payloads for a competition organised by Team Stellar – one of our sponsors.

Contact me on 0448 881 101 if in Australia or +61 448 881 101 if calling from overseas and please leave a voice mail message if I do not answer the phone. You can also email me on

Some things we can take up for you:

  • A sign with your name and/or logo
  • A photo
  • A mascot or small toy
  • A small science experiment

What we can’t take up:

  • Live animals
  • things that may injure people
  • things that would be of risk to planes if they, for any reason, impacted the craft
  • things taht may disintegrate in extreme cold or extreme low pressure.
  • Things that will interfere with the other payloads or the tracking systems.

There are plenty of other things that we can’t carry, but please talk to us and we will let you know. This is an extremely cost effective offer and requires complete payment up front. We can offer 50% refund if cancelled as we may have already allocated your slot on a flight and paid for materials. One week before the flight, cancellation will not be possible.

Remember these terms are not for our normal flights that are not at discount prices.

The final video is for Bulla Cloud9 Yogurt that we flew into the jet stream and “froze in the clouds”

Update 2

GLXP_Team_Logo_StellarUpdate 2. Sponsorship, Funding, Media and Visits!

Things are brewing and the project is about to rise to new heights – pun intended.

Keep an eye out for a new and incredible set of sponsors. Hey, we still need the KickStarter funding and that seems to have stalled, but we will be a fast finisher to get the goal level because simply this project needs your help. Ever want to help build a spacecraft? This is your chance to go in the records for all time that you helped ThunderStruck. Keep an eye out for our New Sponsors over the next few weeks!

PlusComms scaled Down Banner LogoI can tell you that the company I work for, PlusComms Pty Ltd, is a new Bronze Sponsor and so is Team Stellar, the amazing team going to the moon with a rover. Part of the Google Luna X Prize event. We know that they are amazing as i am a senior consultant for the team and Jason is a Student Representative. We they are amazing with our without us to be honest…. The head of team Stellar Captain Stjepan Bedić has agreed to be an adviser to Project ThunderStruck. Thanks Stjepan!

More on our sponsors in another post very soon.


KickStarter logoThe campaign got off to a bad start with my lack of experience. Add to that some massive changes in the projects direction and I will probably have to stop the current KickStart project and re-do the whole thing, coordinating the marketing better with the support opportunities. Yes, always something new to master, even when it is something as off-topic for ThunderStruck, as raising funds for the project.

scramspace_highres3So what is New?

DSTO’s Hypersonics Laboratory Visit!

Pretty much everything. We have some massive allies out their that really believe in the project. As you may know Australia is partnering with the US in SCRAM-JET technology and Australia is a world leader in scram-jet technology and test flights. The Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) that is responsible for orchestrating much of Australia’s strategic direction have invited Jason and I to travel to Brisbane to visit their Hypersonics Laboratory next Tuesday. Stay tuned for any fun stuff that comes from this and of course serious stuff! We will be talking to world experts in supersonic flight. There is of course a lot of synergy between the projects at a basic level as it is all about supersonic flight. I promise to bring back lots of pictures. In the meantime have a look at these links:

Click Below to read more::

HIFiRE program          Hypersonic Flight


Avalon Airshow Feb 2015

It looks like we will be attending this major airshow in a few months time. There will be a significant opportunity to inspire kids with one of our airframes that we will use for the flight. We will have the real thing at the show and Jason will explain the fine details to anyone interested.

Click here for the show details: Avalon Airshow


newspapersMedia Appearances

It looks we will be in the press a lot during the life of this project and we already have had our fair share of press:

SMH / Age / Canberra Times, etc:

SMH, etc Tech story:

Daily Telegraph:

We are also in all the local papers, but their stories are pretty poor and misleading. One paper showed a balloon payload, but spoke about Jason building a supersonic craft. They did say however that he had not started building the craft.

Radio interviews have happened in Melbourne and soon in Sydney – the Linda Mottram Morning Show on 702 has us booked in as does the Breakfast show. Sunrise will be videoing us next week for a story. We will appear on Science shows and expect that a documentary will be filmed of the whole event.

Stay Tuned – we will keep you updated.

Press Release 1

Jason recovering Payload Cameras gets his photo snapped

Jason recovering Payload Cameras gets his photo snapped. Robert Brand top right

Press Release 1 – 12 year old to Break the Sound Barrier

Thursday 9th Oct 2014

Release Date: IMMEDIATE

12 year old to Break the Sound Barrier

Sydney, NSW, Australia.

Jason Brand, 12 years old has commenced work on building a Remote Control Glider expected to reach Mach 1.5. He has worked with his father, well-known Space Entrepreneur, Robert Brand, on High Altitude Balloon launches since he was 9 years old. Coupled with his love of flying remote-controlled aircraft, Project ThunderStruck was born. Jason will use a massive high altitude balloon to take his glider to over 40km altitude (>25 miles) often called “the edge of space” and release it. The glider will dive through the extremely thin atmosphere and into the record books. It will be controlled from the ground via video and radio links and reach an expected top speed of around Mach 1.5 (1,800kph or 1,120mph).

Jason thought of the idea when his father was talking about a winged re-entry vehicle project that he has commenced. He was discussing the testing required at different stages of the flight and Jason realised that he could actually fly the tests for the transonic phase – the area around the breaking of the sound barrier.

Jason has been immersed in flying for many years. Since he and his father launched their first balloon when he was 9 years old. He was so inspired that he studied and passed his test to become a radio amateur operator (HAM) on his first attempt, again at age 9. 19 balloon launches later, they have maintained an unheard of 100% success in recovering their payloads. Jason flies radio controlled model aircraft, is a cadet in the Australian Air League (Riverwood Squadron) and is determined to solo at age 15. He has also be designing radio systems for long distance control and video. He will “see” from the cockpit camera via a video link and the instrumentation will be overlaid on the video. He will wear goggles and guide the aircraft through the dive, the leveling off at about 80,000 feet (24km / 15 miles) altitude. He will then fly the craft in for a landing.

Special tracking and GPS equipment will be required to verify the speed of the craft for the record books. Most GPS does not work above 60,000 ft and only special GPS systems will work near or above the speed of sound, like those used in missiles. Similarly the aircraft will carry a radar transponder that will advise other aircraft of the ThunderStruck aircraft diving at Mach 1.5. Even military aircraft do not get much over 80,000 ft and controlled airspace is below 60,000 ft. This will probably be the highest balloon and definitely the highest aircraft in the world that day.

This has never been done before and let alone by a 12 year old. It showcases STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and the fabulous things that happen students are brought up to understand that most limits are there to be broken. Our motto is “New Heights and Breaking Barriers” and those include the Sound Barrier (1,233kph / 766 mph). Soon we will start our funding campaign as it will cost nearly $100,000 to make this a reality and we are looking for global support for such a spectacular event. On the day the event will be captured by cameras on the balloon, the aircraft and from the ground. These will be both live and also recorded. A live broadcast will be available on the Internet for the event scheduled for April 2015.



Contact:   Robert Brand –   Australia:  02 9789 2773    Int’l: +61 2 9789 2773

Photos of Jason and Robert Brand on the Project ThunderStruck webpage are available for publication as is the logo and the CAD images of the aircraft.

Jason Brand (12 y/o), creator, designer, builder and flier of ThunderStruck

  • HAM radio operator since he was 9 years old
  • First balloon launch and recovery at 9 years old
  • Member of the Australian Air League – Hornets Squadron, Riverwood, Sydney – Cadet
  • Flying Radio Controlled aircraft since 2013
  • Launched, tracked and recovered 19 High Altitude balloons and recovered 100% (all 19)
  • Attends Sydney Secondary College, Balmain Campus – Y7 in 2014
  • Is the Student Representative for Team Stellar – a Google Lunar X-Prize team headed for the moon.


Robert Brand: Leading Australian space entrepreneur, Senior Adviser for Team Stellar, ex-OTC staff member, amateur radio operator, Public Speaker on Innovation, Social Media and Space with a focus on Australian Space. Proud father of three amazing kids.

Worked on Apollo 11 equipment at 17 years old, supported Apollo missions, Voyager missions, Shuttle missions and ESA’s Giotto mission to Halleys Comet. Several times he was stationed at the Parkes Radio Telescope.

With his son Jason he has launched 19 high altitude balloon mission and recovered all 19 – two of them were in Croatia. He has designed a mechanism to turn a weather balloon into a zero pressure balloon during flight. Many of the balloon flight have been commercial flights for customers.

End Press Release.

Balloon Burst8 - Speed has slowed, but drag is greater in the thickening atmosphere - UpLift-19

The View from 33.33Km Altitude

33.33Km and the Thin Blue Line

UpLift-19 Media and Information

Ever wonder what the view is like 1/3 the way to space. Here is our last high altitude Balloon flight to give you a look. Since it did carry sensors for Project ThunderStruck, it is a big thank you to Clintons Toyota of Campbelltown, NSW, Australia. The balloon was launched from Rankins Springs NSW and the payload weighed 1.5Kg and it was a 800 gram balloon

This is an unedited video and still video images from a GoPro3 Black edition camera of a weather balloon payload area. It climbs to 33.333Km where the balloon bursts and the payload free-falls back for recovery. It was a commercial flight fo Clintons Toyota, Campbelltown, NSW, Australia. They also sponsored a non-commercial payload for Project ThunderStruck – our first test for the Project for a supersonic glider to break Mach 1.5 (1,800kph / 1,120mph)

The so-called Space Chicken, frame and with the parachute deployed, it reached a top speed of 400kph / 250mph. At the 12 minute 14 second mark on the video (2 hours into the flight) there is a noticeable jarring of the payload and a small pop. This is the balloon exploding. Immediately shredded balloon hits the payload as there is virtually no air to slow it. 2 seconds later, the payload tilts showing the cloud of shredded balloon About 1 minute into the free fall we reached 400kph according to the telemetry. The drag increases at lower altitudes, so the effect of the wind is worse as it descends. It then improves as the air density increases. In the seconds after release you get to glimpse the balloon shreds rocketing into the payload from the explosion and then the cloud of shredded material in the sky. About 10 seconds later there are glimpses of the blue and white parachute not doing much during the fall due to the low air resistance. The cutdown box that is placed above the parachute actually fouls the parachute slightly during the free fall before it becomes effective at slowing the payload. The fouled parachute causes spin at the faster speeds. The video finish with the payload still well above the clouds. This was UpLift-19 by Robert and Jason Brand for Clintons Toyota.

PS, notice that thin blue line in the video and the photos? That is all the atmosphere we have and that is pretty thin near the top. 72 percent of the atmosphere is below the common cruising altitude of commercial airliners (about 10,000 m or 32,800 ft)

Jason and Robert Brand setting up the cameras on UpLift-19

Jason and Robert Brand setting up the cameras on UpLift-19


Balloon-Burst1-seconds-after-the-event-UpLift-19. Those are the shreds of the balloon.

Balloon Burst3 seconds after the event Note the cloud is getting smaller as the thin air slows it faster. – UpLift-19

Balloon Burst3 seconds after the event Note the cloud is getting smaller as the thin air slows it faster. – UpLift-19

Balloon Burst4 seconds after the event - UpLift-19

Balloon Burst4 seconds after the event – UpLift-19 – yes, that is the sun

Balloon Burst5 seconds after the event - UpLift-19

Balloon Burst5 seconds after the event – UpLift-19

Balloon Burst6 with Parachute in view seconds after the event - UpLift-19

Balloon Burst6 with our blue and white Parachute in view seconds after the event – UpLift-19

Balloon Burst7-Effects of drag are clear after only 24 seconds - UpLift-19

Balloon Burst7-Effects of drag are clear after only 24 seconds – UpLift-19

Balloon Burst8 - Speed has slowed, but drag is greater in the thickening atmosphere - UpLift-19

Balloon Burst8 – Speed has slowed, but drag is greater in the thickening atmosphere – UpLift-19

Note: The images above are from the High Definition Video, not still images. The quality of our camera work has increased dramatically with some improvements to our methodology.

Centre of gravity adjustment transitioning from dive to level flight


Creating Stability Between Supersonic Dive and Subsonic Level Flight

Here is the problem. During the supersonic dive, the weight is ideally forward to ensure that, as an airflow is felt by the aircraft, the drag of the tail keeps the craft oriented in vertical dive. That is assisted bythe drag across the aircraft and a low centre of gravity near the nose. During level flight below supersonic speeds the centre of gravity must be further back and ideally between the wings.

Jet fighter design has all sorts of tricks to alter the centre of gravity (or appear to) to make he changes needed. This can be as simple as changing wing shape or even extend more wing during lower speed flight. Some aircraft even have had swung wings. It is hard to control the major variations between the lift and drag that changes dramatically between subsonic and supersonic flight. None the less they do not need the dramatic changes in the centre of gravity that we are engineering.

ThunderStruck will be essential a poor flier as we are, at this stage, proposing symmetrical wings. The problem is that nothing is perfect and even the subtle differences between the wings can give on more lift than the other and create spin. Because of Bernoulli’s law, you might have supersonic flow on the wings, nose, or any other curvature way before you reach Mach 1. Battling with supersonic airflow below mach 1 is difficult and de-stabilising. We will be experimenting with dropping light airframes with a camera at the nose. Before we reach controlled airspace, we will deploy our parachute and have a reserve one for safety. We will watch carefully to see the effects on stability.

The diagram below is one solution to moving the mass required for stable flight in both modes. The pump must be fast and the liquid must stay “thin” and not become viscus. We will need baffles to slow the sloshing around during the changeover. These divide the tanks into chambers with some small holes joining the chambers to allow them to fill.

Centre of gravity adjustment transitioning from dive to level flight

There are other solutions such as screw thread that will shift the battery and electronics forwards or backwards. Since the flight is short the transition only needs to be one way, the design is thus simplified. I am not a fan of shifting the battery and electronics around. It will take a large movement to have the desired effect and it could cause wired t break if they get caught on something. I personally favour pumping the fluid from forward to back as shown above. Moving it down during horizontal flight creates even more stability by creating dihedral effect between the wings on an otherwise symmetrical aircraft.

Dihedral in aircraft is the inclination of an aircraft’s wing from the horizontal, especially upwards away from the fuselage. in this case it is the centre of gravity that I am measuring it against and this indicates that the weight is below the wings and the aircraft will be easier to fly.

Below is another thought on using systems, but this time we vent the fluid without the need for a pump.

gravity does the work for us and we remove the liquid away from any potential problems within the aircraft. Making it lighter will also make it more controllable once out of the dive.

gravity does the work for us and we remove the liquid away from any potential problems within the aircraft. Making it lighter will also make it more controllable once out of the dive.

Whatever system we chose, we will be writing it up here. we need to fly the craft and we also have access to a wind tunnel for subsonic tests.

ThunderStruck Mission Logo

Project Thunderstruck Draft A 7OCT2014Project ThunderStruck has a Logo

Story by Robert Brand

Our Logo has been designed by Tim Gagnon and Dr Jorge Cartes

Tim Gagnon is a fine graphic artist from Florida and he has pledged support for Project ThunderStruck by designing the mission patch. If you have any thoughts about his skills, have a look at our mission patch design and his website. I believe that he has done one or two before!

Jason and I absolutely love this design and it incorporates everything that we asked for and more. If you can use Tim to design art for your project, please contract him. You will not be sorry. It is a wise investment!

This is from his website:

Tim Gagnon Fine Art & Graphic Design from America’s Space Coast

 Ever since reading about the design of the Skylab 1 patch in an article written by the artist Frank Kelly Freas in 1973, Tim dreamed about creating a patch for a flight crew, to actually use his artistic talent to contribute to the space program.  He came close in 1985 when Bob Crippen invited him to submit designs for the first shuttle mission scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, STS-62A.  That mission was canceled after the Challenger accident.

In 2004 his dream finally came true when astronaut John Phillips selected Tim to design the emblem for the Expedition 11  mission to the International Space Station.  In 2006 he was invited by mission Commander Pam Melroy to submit draft designs for the STS-120 patch. The competition was strong and Tim placed second.  In 2007 Tim was selected by astronaut Eric Boe to design the STS-126  mission emblem. Knowing how much it meant to participate, Tim invited his pen pal Dr. Jorge Cartes of Madrid Spain to join him on this project.  The STS-126 crew was so happy with the result that they recommended Tim and Jorge to the STS-127 crew. In 2008 together with astronaut Tom Marshburn they designed the crew emblem for STS-127. Then later that year Tim and Jorge were asked by astronaut TJ Creamer to design the Expedition 22 and 23 increment mission emblems. 

 In 2007 to raise funds for the Apollo Program Monument the Space Walk of Fame Foundation conducted an online auction. To support this effort Tim donated the creation of an 18” x 24” painting. The winning bidder challenged Tim to create a piece that would illustrate the entire 50 year history of space exploration. They soon realized that the scope of the painting required a larger canvas. After researching the idea it was decided that it could be done on a 48” x 24” canvas. The painting became Past Is Prologue” – Celebrating 50 Years of America in Space.  It was unveiled on Space Day, May 2, 2008 in front of the Apollo Monument in downtown Titusville, FL. The painting will remain on display at the Space Walk of Fame Museum for one year and then be returned to its owner.

 In 2008 keeping with his dedication to support activities that can promote space science education for children, Tim designed a souvenir “mission patch” for the team launching Steve Eves 1:10 scale model of an Apollo/ Saturn V rocket to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Apollo 11. The patches will be launched aboard this incredible working scale model. The launch date is set for April 25, 2009.

 Tim has also designed a ten-part series of patches to “Celebrate 50 years of America in Space.” The first patch which is the 50th anniversary patch has been shown on the NBC Television Series: “Law & Order SVU” and has also flown in space. The designs which range in size from 4″ to 12″ cover the range of human exploration from Project Mercury to the International Space Station. While not widely distributed they have been well received by all who have seen them.

Tim is currently working with other flight crews and NASA officials on new mission and project emblems

10717663_10204994119557795_344220275_n Fine Art & Graphic Design from America’s Space Coast. For those that are not from Florida or have not seen a video from a launch across the water to NASA’s facilities – a night launch and the assembly building.

Dr Jorge Cartes

This is his bio as provided by him:

I’m 60 years old. Always lived in Madrid, and I’m married to Olga, a Physician like me, and we have a daughter, Monica who is 24. I have only one brother (Ph. too), my father died in 1979 and my mother in 2004.

I finished my medical studies in 1979 and since then I worked always in Primary Care (Family Practice) and Emergencies (our # 112 is your # 911, I believe). At this time I’m working in a big food and restaurant enterprise which includes your Starbucks Company in Spain.

Since the time of the Apollo 10 I was following all the space launches of NASA and collecting their patches.

Dr Jorge CartesMy wife and I like to travel, and we have been at last ten times in USA, traveling across your big country, and visited all Florida (from Key West to Tallahassee and from KSC to Emerald Coast, and travelling across AL, MS, LA (New Orleans for many days), Baton Rouge, TX (Houston and JSC, of course), AZ (Hoover Dam), NV (Las Vegas), CA (from San Diego to San Francisco and the Wine Valleys), WA (Seattle), AK (cruising from Vancouver to Anchorage -Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, Yukon…), IL (Chicago), NJ, NY (I love New York and I had the luck of knowing the WTC just 6 month before the crime), DE, MD, Washington DC and Puerto Rico.

We also have been in Haiti, Dominican Rep., Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Bahamas, Guatemala, Venezuela (my wife was born there), Brazil, Argentina, and in this side, many other countries, (all Europe, some African countries and Turkey) We think that traveling is the best way to understand our world and keep us more and more great and rich in experiences… so I would like to be an astronaut: they can travel where I never would be.

Finally I get a good friend who helped me to get one of my dreams: made a space patch!

Tim and Jorge, again, MANY, MANY thanks for your support and great artwork. This logo will be available from our shop soon and on a number of items such as caps, cups and shirts. We will fly some on ThunderStruck.

Breaking Mach 1, but by How Much?

A Zero Pressure Balloon fill_2610Hitting the Mach.

by Robert Brand

The aim of Project ThunderStruck is hitting Mach 1 and a bit more for good measure. Basically breaking the sound barrier. We may reach Mach 1.5, but that will be very much related to the height we reach with the balloon and few other factors. Project ThunderStruck is about Breaking Mach 1 – anything faster is a bonus.

ThunderStruck will rise to 40Km or more for its record attempt. It will need to use a Zero Pressure Balloon capable of reaching 40Km plus carrying a payload in the region of 20Kg including cameras and electronics on the Balloon.

Thanks to for the information below regarding Joe Kittinger’s Record Jump in 1960:

Captain Kittinger’s 1960 report in National Geographic said that he was in free fall from 102,800 (31.333Km) to 96,000 feet (29.26Km) and then experienced no noticeable change in acceleration for an additional 6,000 feet (1.83Km) despite having deployed his stabilization chute.

The article then goes on the mention that he achieved 9/10ths the speed of sound and continued to suggest (with maths) that he would have broken the speed of sound with an additional 1,300 m (4,200 feet) of free fall.

If we assume an average acceleration of 9.70 m/s2, it is a simple matter to determine the altitude at which a skydiver starting at 40 km would break the sound barrier.

 maths to calculate altitude at which the sound barrier is broken

That’s an altitude of about 116,000 feet or 35.36Km. So how fast might we go starting at 40km altitude?

maths to calculate the max speed from altitude

Sorry if the equations are difficult to see – that is the quality from the website.

This is nearly 200 m/s faster than the local speed of sound. At the incredible speeds we’re dealing with, air resistance can not be ignored. A maximum of Mach 1.3 seems very reasonable for a human in a pressure suit compared to the prediction of Mach 1.6.

Given that the altitude of the glider release will be 40Km or more, then a top speed of near Mach 1.5 is possible. If we go higher, then we go faster.

Why is ThunderStruck an Aircraft?

Why is it considered an aircraft if it is in free fall with little to no drag? Simply because it is designed to use the little airflow to stabilise itself. Like and aircraft at lower heights uses its control surfaces for stable flight, ThunderStruck does the same. As you might remember from the jumps in the past by Joe Kittinger and Felix Baumgartner, they had serious trouble controlling spin. ThunderStruck will use the exceedingly thin air to control the spin and other forces acting on the craft during its record breaking dive.

After the dive and breaking the sound barrier, ThunderStruck will pull out of the dive under the control of RC pilot Jason Brand (12 years old) and level off, washing off excess speed. It will then fly to the ground under manual control to land just like any other aircraft.

This piece on Felix Baumgartner from Wikipedia:

203px-Felix_Baumgartner_2013Felix Baumgartner; born 20 April 1969, is an Austrian skydiver, daredevil and BASE jumper. He set the world record for skydiving an estimated 39 kilometres (24 mi), reaching an estimated speed of 1,357.64 km/h (843.6 mph), or Mach 1.25, on 14 October 2012, and became the first person to break the sound barrier without vehicular power on his descent.

Baumgartner’s most recent project was Red Bull Stratos, in which he jumped to Earth from a helium balloon in the stratosphere on 14 October 2012. As part of this project, he set the altitude record for a manned balloon flight,[8] parachute jump from the highest altitude, and greatest free fall velocity

The launch was originally scheduled for 9 October 2012, but was aborted due to adverse weather conditions. Launch was rescheduled and the mission instead took place on 14 October 2012 when Baumgartner landed in eastern New Mexico after jumping from a world record 38,969.3 metres (127,852 feet and falling a record distance of 36,402.6 metres. On the basis of updated data, Baumgartner also set the record for the highest manned balloon flight (at the same height) and fastest speed of free fall at 1,357.64 km/h (843.6 mph), making him the first human to break the sound barrier outside a vehicle.

This piece on the Speed of Sound from Wikipedia:

The speed of sound is the distance traveled per unit of time by a sound wave propagating through an elastic medium. In dry air at 20 °C (68 °F), the speed of sound is 342 metres per second (1,122 ft/s). This is 1,233 kilometres per hour (666 kn; 766 mph), or about a kilometer in three seconds or a mile in five seconds.

The Speed of Sound changes with altitude, but surprisingly this is not due to density or pressure, but with temperature!

 Altitude vs temperature pressure densityDensity and pressure decrease smoothly with altitude, but temperature (red) does not. The speed of sound (blue) depends only on the complicated temperature variation at altitude and can be calculated from it, since isolated density and pressure effects on sound speed cancel each other. Speed of sound increases with height in two regions of the stratosphere and thermosphere, due to heating effects in these regions.

You can click of the image  (left) to enlarge the image and see it with a white background! For the purposes of this flight, we will be using the speed of sound at sea level.

Will there be a Sonic Boom?

Yes, but it will not likely to be heard. In fact there will be two. One as it breaks the sound barrier and goes supersonic and one again as it slows to subsonic. Givent he size of the craft and the distance and thin atmosphere, it is unlikely to be heard from the ground.

Our Aerospace Adviser Asks Questions.

Answering our Adviser’s Initial Questions.


Below is an exchange between our new adviser to the project (to be announced officially soon and myself (Robert Brand). Here are his initial comments and please remember that he has not seen anything yet. Our adviser is a pilot with an aerospace engineering degree.

Our Adviser  Hi Robert, Here are a few questions and thoughts.

1. Propulsion

At a first glance you may think you don’t have a propulsion problem, because the thing is falling down.

The fact is, you do. The basic forces and their components (lift, weight, thrust and drag) are always in balance as long as the aircraft is not accelerating in any axis.

This is valid the other way around as well: The aircraft will accelerate as long as the forces are not in balance.

For your case, you need to have the capability to accelerate beyond the sound barrier.

The problem is that the parasitic drag increases exponentially as you approach M=1 and because you are going at a certain angle towards the ground, a certain component of this force, or all of it if you dive vertically, adds to your lift. Once your lift becomes greater than your weight, you will start to slow down.

If this happens before M=1, you will never reach supersonic speed. If it happens after M=! you can further accelerate, because the drag drops after transonic. Transonic is the worst place to be. I order to be supersonic, you must achieve M=1 ASAP, before the air becomes dense.

If you drop from 33km, forget it, because at 30km you can already feel the effects of atmosphere.

The first thing you need to do is apply total surface design, or coke-bottling. The total surface of your craft must be consistent, so at the place where you have wings, your fuselage must be narrower. This dictates your fuselage to be in a shape of a coke bottle. This will reduce drag significantly.

Also, center of lift on the wings changes in supersonic flight and you need to cope with that. There are two strategies, variable wings or variable centre of gravity. I have a very original idea how to solve that.

2. Stability

Any object going through a fluid tends to assume a low drag position. Sometimes this low drag position means rotating and spinning.

You can solve this problem by active control (unless you have f-16 engineers on board, forget it) or aircraft design.

I would suggest delta wings, high swept. Delta wing has an inherent auto stability feature and high sweep angle to reduce drag and effect of the wings.

Accept it, your aircraft can be designed either for high speeds or low speeds, unless you have flaps or variable wing geometry.


My Response

I look forward to how he views this and I will report back soon. I expect that I will have allayed most of his fears:

Firstly we are already applying the constant area rule. Even the A380 has aspects of the rule in the design. I lectured at Sydney Uni on the subject only a few weeks back. I understand the rule and some other rules to do with supersonic flight, although their effects are much less than the constant area rule.

Yes, the wings may very well be more swept back than in the image on the site. We will do drop tests to a certain the best wing shape and we have access to a wind tunnel.

The wings will be symmetrical (top and bottom)– ie zero lift. They will be therefore not an issue at supersonic speeds. The elevator will provide the “lift” with speed at lower altitudes. Yes, it will land “hot” – we may use “flaperons” ie combined flaps and ailerons. It should be noted that these are less effective as ailerons when they are biased down as flaps, but they will be bigger than needed. They will be symmetrical also. Flaperons are really ailerons  that are mixed with the flaps signal on the transmitter to bias them both “on” as flaps/ The ailerons do not work with the same efficiency when they are both biased down, but they do work. We may use separate flaps, we may not use flaps. Testing will determine the stability and best options.

Below is a video that shows how they mix the signals in the transmitter of radio controlled models to adjust the various control surfaces. This is a third party video

The spin will be counteracted by the large ailerons even in low air, the trick is to stop the spin in the first place by making the craft very symmetrical and test that aspect.

Our novel answer to controlling the need for different centres of gravity: We will have serious control of the centre of gravity in the craft and we will be able to move the batteries and electronics with a screw mechanism back and forward in the fuselage. This will keep the craft from being unstable at supersonic speeds. Once it goes back to subsonic, we will begin moving the centre of gravity back as we begin to level out the flight and slow the craft.

At slower speeds, we have air brakes that will slow the craft if needed

The supersonic spike at the front of the aircraft is used to create the shock wave with a pin point device ahead of the fuselage and ensure that the biggest part of the shock misses the wing entirely. A shock wave over the wing creates massive drag and this is why many pilots in the early days, tried to break the sound barrier and failed. The spike doubles as a VHF / UHF antenna

Three weeks ago we launched a payload mainly of wood, covered in bubble wrap for the electronics and, with the parachute deployed, it reached 400kph. For the event we will be using a Zero Pressure Balloon to get to over 40Km altitude. If the 9Kg of the payload are not enough, we will increase the weight and size of the craft. We will break the sound barrier, but need to show it is a fully working aircraft after the dive.

In World War II bombs from high altitude aircraft regularly broke the sound barrier. We will shift the centre of gravity well forward and act like a bomb. We should be able to punch through that barrier with a lot to spare – even Felix Baumgartner broke he sound barrier for his jump altitude of 39Km. He was not very aerodynamic. We expect to terminate supersonic flight at around 31Km

Yes, transonic is a bad place. We do not intend to allow the craft to stay there! Punch through while the air is super thin and keep accelerating!

Will we make Mach 1.5? – it depends on our launch altitude. We will achieve Mach 1 – the sea level speed of sound is our target. About 1200kph.

Area_rule_unifilar_drawing.svgThere is much more, but I expect that I have answered most of your questions in this email. We will be using ITAR controlled GPS units for supersonic tracking and also we will be using radar transponders to warn other aircraft. The Jason and I will be testing a lot of aspects of the flight with drop tests from balloons. I will be launching another balloon in a week’s time.

The picture above shows the constant area rule – efficiency is gained by the cross-sectional area of the aircraft being constant along its length. The fuselage gets thinner where the wings are as there area has to be accounted for. This rule is important as aircraft get close to the sound barrier and this is why Boeing 747 aircraft were so efficient.

Note the light blue area has to be the same as the dark blue area, including the area of the wings. This is the “coke bottle” shape that our adviser mentioned – note the thinner mid section of the central body.

Air Pressure, Altitude, Balloons and Rockets

Air Pressure and how it Affects Balloons and Rockets

Weather Balloon Burst

By Robert Brand


One of the big issues for rockets flying to space is the air pressure it must climb through. As a rocket climbs it gets faster and has to push more air out of the way. As it goes higher the air thins and you can see from the table below that it is exponential. Have a look at the 1/100th  fraction of one atmosphere below and you will see that the atmosphere is 1% of sea level. The change is not linear. The atmosphere thins to a tiny percentage at twice that height, but at half the height it is 10% of the sea level pressure.

NASA says: The velocity of a rocket during launch is constantly increasing with altitude. Therefore, the dynamic pressure on a rocket during launch is initially zero because the velocity is zero. The dynamic pressure increases because of the increasing velocity to some maximum value, called the maximum dynamic pressure, or Max Q. Then the dynamic pressure decreases because of the decreasing density. The Max Q condition is a design constraint on full scale rockets.

fraction of 1 atmosphere (ATM) average altitude
(m) (ft)
1 0 0
1/2 5,486.3 18,000
1/3 8,375.8 27,480
1/10 16,131.9 52,926
1/100 30,900.9 101,381
1/1000 48,467.2 159,013
1/10000 69,463.6 227,899
1/100000 96,281.6 283,076

The Falcon9 reaches the speed of sound at 1 min 10 sec into its flight and then reaches Max Q just 8 to 13 seconds later depending on speed,and air pressure variables. Unlike airplanes, a rocket’s thrust actually increases with altitude; Falcon 9 generates 1.3 million pounds of thrust at sea level but gets up to 1.5 million pounds of thrust in the vacuum of space. The first stage engines are gradually throttled near the end of first-stage flight to limit launch vehicle acceleration as the rocket’s mass decreases with the burning of fuel.

Want to know more? This is not full of maths, just some fun stuff about Max Q and reaching orbit.

Balloons and Project ThunderStruck

Well for balloons we have a different issue. Balloons have to displace their weight in gas in the atmosphere and that includes displacing enough gas for the weight of the payload too.

Rate of Climb - Fall vs TimeThe climb to maximum altitude for the most part is linear. I discovered this when analysing the stats from my first balloon flight. It was linear until it reached the point that the balloon exploded. If you launch a balloon that does not explode, it will slow its climb and then float. My best guess is that as the climb becomes more difficult due to the air thinning thus and thus the displaced gas is getting closer to the weight of the balloon and payload, but the air resistance is getting less. The size of the balloon is also increasing with height and has to push away a greater volume of air to climb, but the number of air molecules in the increased mass is way less. All up it produces a fairly linear climb. The graph (left) from uplift-1 shows he linear climb and the exponential fall with the parachute deployed. For the parachute, the air gets thicker as it falls and thus slows more as the altitude decreases. Note the initial glitch was caused by a strong thermal just as we let go of the balloon. Once out of the thermal the climb was very linear. It is obvious when the balloon burst.

Altitude and Air PressureAnother view of th same data is shown on the left from UpLift-1′s flight. Note that the rate of climb is linear, but increasing slightly. This would be affected by balloon size and fill amount. The rate of climb may be fast, slow or medium, but that will also change the rate of change of the volume. Not all graphs are the same, but they tend to be similar. Note also that the size of the parachute needs to change with the weight of the payload. The ideal speed for the average payload would be about 5mto 6m per second at the landing altitude, thus landing at Denver, Colorado, USA will require that you make the parachute a little bigger since it is nearly 2Km above sea level and the air is noticeably thinner.

There are good fill charts on the web allowing you to calculate the size of balloon and the amount of Helium or Hydrogen to determine the altitude at which the balloon will explode. More on that another time. The picture at top of page is a weather balloon exploding at altitude.

All up, air pressure can destroy a rocket if its speed is too great and it will destroy a weather balloon if the air pressure gets too low. Both rely on understanding the effects of air pressure, but the dynamics are totally different.

Project ThunderStruck will use weather balloons for testing and they may explode. ThunderStruck‘s record attempt will be using a Zero Pressure Balloon to climb to or beyond 40Km.

Too finish off the post here is a video of a balloon burst. They are spectacular, especially as the balloons grow to a huge diameter and fill the screen of most wide angle GoPros!: