Aircraft Design Changes

ThunderStruck mk2ThunderStruck Design on the “Fly”

We now have 2 major changes to the ThunderStruck aircraft. The first is shown in the image to the right. Winglets. The second is a square-ish cross-section to the fuselage rather than a round fuselage – this is under consideration to aid in landing the craft.

The image to the right still shows the aircraft with a round fuselage, but it is obvious that we will miss out on some lifting ability from the body at landing by making the fuselage round. A flat surface on the underside if the craft will provide more lift at the right angle of attack.

winglet_effect_Winglets

The image right is from Wikipedia:

Line drawing of wingtip vortices behind a conventional wingtip (on the left) and a blended winglet (on the right).

This is important as it reduced the vortices behind aircraft that cause so many dangerous incidents at airports when aircraft get too close to each other. It also reduced drag and thus efficiency in aircraft.

The ThunderStruck craft will certainly use the winglets to reduce drag by reducing vorticies, but this will have no impact at supersonic speeds because we will be using symmetrical wing. Normal wings have a flat bottom and a rising leading edge and a trailing edge on the top surface.  This makes the air flow faster over the top compared to the steady flow over the bottom. This reduces the pressure on the top pushing the wings up. This would be nice for the cruising stage after the dive, but bad for holding the craft in a supersonic dive. Any air flow over any asymmetrical surfaces may produce drag or lift that could pull the craft out of a supersonic dive early. The effects could be catastrophic.

Many high altitude model aircraft dropped from high altitude balloons (usually illegally) follow a roller coaster ride due to the thin air and lift in the wings. We don’t want that so the wings will be symmetrical – no lift. We do not need them for the supersonic dive. What we also need is symmetry in the aircraft at any cross-section, vertical or horizontal. The closer to total symmetry, the more likely that ThunderStruck will reach speeds of near 2,000kph. So if we have winglets, they need to extend top and bottom.

So Why the Winglets?

Simply we need wheels. The winglets hide the wheels and any need to lower wheels for landing. We may use a retractable wheel for the front, but not the rear wheels.

The Winglets will also house twin rudders, making a dedicated rear stabiliser (top and bottom) unnecessary. The rear cross-section looks like the picture below:

ThunderStruck Cross-section

Lifting Body (at Landing).

In the cross-section above the flat surface of the lifting body is obvious. This will only be important when landing as the craft assumes a significant nose down attitude during the gliding phase. Since we have no lift from the wings, the craft needs strong elevators to redirect the airflow at the rear of the aircraft to keep control. We will stay aloft by having speed due to a high angle of attack (nose down). Large elevators will keep the aircraft flying at this high angle of attack. It will be a poor glider – but so was the space shuttle – for different reasons – more to do with the delta wing configuration. A round fuselage cross-section would not aid the lift of the craft at landing. A square fuselage will increase the drag as the surface area is greater, but it will help fly the craft at lower speed when landing. It will have little effect during the glide phase. We may add canards to the front of the craft to increase the lift at the front during low speed flight, but they will pop out after we go subsonic. Delta wing craft work well at supersonic speeds, but are poor performers at low speeds. In the picture at the top of screen, the craft does not have a supersonic spike. We will need this for the Transonic tests, but not for return from a sounding rocket or re-entry from orbit.

Below is a closer look at the Winglets. We have yet to show the square cross-section in an image, since this is still under test. It is felt that the flat surface will help drive a higher pressure under the craft (between the ground and the craft) allowing it to land at a slower speed. This is a form of “ground effect” making the need for a long runway important to drop off speed until the effect lessens and the aircraft eases to the runway. Tests may find little difference in the landing speed and thus we may revert to a cylindrical fuselage. Time for some wind tunnel testing.

ThunderStruck mk2 closeup

 

Technology Taking Shape – Radio Links

Control SystemFinalising ThunderStruck’s Radio Links

Aside from the airframe and servos, one of the hardest planning jobs is designing and building the various radio links.

It is pretty simple. Radio links are essential and not just nice. They will be mission critical to the success of the project, but we will have backups to complete the flight without crashing, etc. The links must be solid and with no breakup and must operate over long distances.

It is very important to realise the differences with the ground based systems and the aircraft systems. With the ground based systems we can have high power, large antennas, antenna tracking, mains/generator power and much more. on the aircraft we have both power and space issues. We also have temperature issues and the equipment must be tested in chambers that have had the air pumped out – I don’t like to use the term “vacuum”, but it is descriptive for most people.

How many links will we need?

At the moment we will need 4 radio links – 2 for the balloon and 2 for the aircraft.

  • The balloon telemetry system
  • The balloon camera system
  • The aircraft telemetry system
  • The aircraft camera system

We want to keep the video links separate from the telemetry as delays in the telemetry information can cause major issues. If you have ever had a large file download interrupt a Skype call?  you will know exactly what I mean. Imagine flying a supersonic aircraft and having dropouts on the links to the flight system! We can’t have that so we separate the systems. We also need to separate the balloon and aircraft systems as we will need to maintain video from the balloon well after the aircraft has separated from the balloon. We will also need to command the balloon to terminate its flight after separation. The most critical link of the 4 is the aircraft telemetry system and we have chosen a 900MHz 1 watt system. It is pretty amazing and handles 56Kb per second both ways at a distance of 80Km with diversity. Diversity is super important. I have posted the specifications on and earlier post, but I will repost them below. It can link directly to our control system and also to a navigation system such as the Pixhawk that we have chosen. The simple set up can be seen in the following diagram. More on this and the other links in a later post.

Control System

Note that in the above radio link system, the yagi antennas may have auto-tracking and will probably be vertical and horizontal diversity. We are toying with the idea of circular polarisation. More on patch antennas later.

From the RFDesign Website:

RFDesign is an electronics design and manufacturing company specialising in Embedded systems, Radios, Antennas and high frequency electronics. We are located in Brisbane, Australia with our office located in Acacia Ridge, QLD. 

Features:

  • Long range >40km depending on antennas and GCS setup
  • 2 x RP-SMA RF connectors, diversity switched.
  • 1 Watt (+30dBm) transmit power.
  • Transmit low pass filter.
  • > 20dB Low noise amplifier.
  • RX SAW filter.
  • Passive front end band pass filter.
  • Open source firmware SiK (V1.x) / tools, field upgradeable, easy to configure.
  • Multipoint software capability with MP SiK (V2.x)
  • Small, light weight.
  • Compatible with 3DR / Hope-RF radio modules.
  • License free use in Australia, Canada, USA, NZ

 Interfaces:

  • RF : 2 x RP-SMA connectors
  • Serial: Logic level TTL (+3.3v nominal, +5v tolerant)
  • Power: +5v, ~800mA max peak (at maximum transmit power)
  • GPIO: 6 General purpose IO (Digital, ADC, PWM capable).

Specifications:

  • Frequency Range:  902 – 928 MHz (USA) / 915 – 928 MHz (Australia)
  • Output Power: 1W (+30dBm), controllable in 1dB steps ( +/- 1dB @=20dBm typical )
  • Air Data transfer rates: 4, 8, 16, 19, 24, 32, 48, 64, 96, 128, 192 and 250 kbit/sec ( User selectable, 64k default )
  • UART data transfer rates: 2400, 4800, 9600, 19200, 38400, 57600, 115200 baud  ( User selectable, 57600 default )
  • Output Power: 1W (+30dBm)
  • Receive Sensitivity: >121 dBm at low data rates, high data rates (TBA)
  • Size: 30 mm (wide) x 57 mm (long) x 12.8 mm (thick) – Including RF Shield, Heatsink and connector extremeties
  • Weight: 14.5g
  • Mounting: 3 x M2.5 screws, 3 x header pin solder points
  • Power Supply: +5 V nominal, (+3.5 V min, +5.5 V max), ~800 mA peak at maximum power
  • Temp. Range: -40 to +85 deg C

Software / GCS Support:

The software solution is an open source development called “SiK” originally by Mike Smith and improved upon by Andrew Tridgell and RFDesign. A boot loader and interface is available for further development and field upgrade of the modem firmware via the serial port.

Most parameters are configurable via AT commands, Eg. baud rate (air/uart), frequency band, power levels, etc., please see the 3DR wiki for commands below for now.

V2.x firmware has been updated to support multipoint networking on the RFD900.

V1.x (non multipoint) is suitable for point to point links – the sourcecode is located at:   https://github.com/RFDesign/SiK

The user manual / datasheet can be found here : RFD900 Datasheet

A software manual for SiK firmware is here : RFD900 Software manual

RFD900 configuration tool: http://rfdesign.com.au/downloads/

RFD900 binary firmware repository: http://rfdesign.com.au/firmware/

3DR/RFD900 compatible configuration tool : http://vps.oborne.me/3drradioconfig.zip

Wiki for the 3DR radios (RFD900 has same commands): http://code.google.com/p/ardupilot-mega/wiki/3DRadio

Integrated support for configuring the RFD900 radios is supported by APM Planner, with other GCS solutions in development.

The default settings are at 57600 baud, N, 8, 1, and 64k air data rate.

Software features include:

  • Frequency hopping spread spectrum (FHSS)
  • Transparent serial link
  • Point to Point, or Multipoint networking
  • Configuration by simple AT commands for local radio, RT commands for remote radio
  • User configurable serial data rates and air datarates
  • Error correction routines, Mavlink protocol framing (user selectable)
  • Mavlink radio status reporting (Local RSSI, Remote RSSI, Local Noise, Remote Noise)
  • Automatic antenna diversity switching on a packet basis in realtime
  • Automatic duty cycle throttling based on radio temperature to avoid overheating

website, http://rfdesign.com.au for more information.

Update – The Links in the ThunderStruck Chain

dstoUpdate – Things Happen in Order

Defence Science & Technology Organisation

I am pleased to say that we have finally gotten permission to announce that we have support from the Australian Department of Defence through the Defence Science and Technology Organisation. This is huge and we knew this would be pivotal to the direction that we took. It has taken time to finalise the arrangements and I am pleased to say they are on board as supporters and we hope that this will go one step further, but we will wait until next week for the final outcome. Even getting them as supporters is huge. We have already been their guests and invited to Brisbane to discuss hypersonics. As part of the arrangements, the hypersonics team will be providing mentoring to Jason, answering any questions to make ThunderStruck a success.

groundcover - Landscape around Longreach, Queensland.Longreach, Queensland

This now means that we can finalise a site for the launch and I can say that we are looking at Longreach in Queensland. It is flat and there is nothing much around to cause issues to the launch or landing. It seems ideal. I have spoken with the Mayor of Longreach and all is good from our first chat. Of course there is a lot more to consider. The concerns of the locals, the weather, the logistics and so much more, but so far so good

Longreach_map

So where is Longreach? Let’s say it is a large town in Central Queensland. It is large by Central Queensland standards, but not big by coast Australian town comparisons. Once you see the area, you will understand. Let’s just say it is flat – very flat. Let’s also say that dust will be our biggest problem if the wind gets up.

The list below tells a story – these are the nearest big towns that most Australians know! A trip to McDonalds will cost you about $200 and day out of your life!

It will be a three day trip from Sydney with a large trailer or truck and we had better not forget anything. It will be a tough ride back to Sydney to pick up that essential part. The wet season looks like it will be very dry and that may be a problem. I suggested to the Mayor that we could hose down the launch area to stop the dust. His comment was “Where will ou get the water?” The sooner I get to town, the better. We really need to know what we are up against if we are to fly from Longreach. On a more positive note, we seem to be in a reasonable spot from a Civil Aviation Perspective. We need to be away from trunk routes.

Longreach city

Where Longreach is,5k
1181km north west of Brisbane1767km south west of Cairns

1854km east of Alice Springs

687km west of Rockhampton

416km to the nearest McDonalds

Airline Sponsorship / Support

So the next link in the chain is to get some help from an airline and we have something. We will finalise this shortly and announce the level of support. I need to get to Longreach and meet the various groups that would have an interest in the project. I need to learn about the mobile phone coverage and which carriers have the best coverage. We will be reporting on the support from carriers in another Update.

Once we visit Longreach, we can approach CASA (Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority).

CASA-logo-stacked

Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA)

CASA has said that we need to apply for Area Approval   to conduct the flight. This will require us to pay for the work that CASA needs to do to get the approval sorted out. This may be a “yes” or “no” and we may need to do more work to finally get a “yes”. We will need funding for the CASA work. it is not likely to be as much as $5K or more, but it is an unknown and may be as small as $1.5K. We have to prepare for the cost and the answer – positive or negative. It may be that they require us to move the launch site slightly to keep it clear of airline trunk routes. Our request must also answer safety questions and out mitigation or avoidance systems. It is up to us to demonstrate how we will make this flight safe for other aircraft sharing the sky.

Other Groups

Finally, there are many organisations that would like to support our activities, but are concerned that they may be supporting a group that is not following CASA’s rules and regulations. They need to see that we are doing the right thing or it could damage their relationship with CASA. The help that we need today may take months to secure – especially with the holidays season around the corner.

Luckily we are not launching until April! We look forward to the next Update.

What is Project ThunderStruck?

ThunderStruck verticalProject ThunderStruck set to Break Barriers

by Robert Brand

This project is two projects in one. The total aim of ThunderStruck is to build as small a space craft as possible that will handle reentry, remain stable and land softly. The “softly” is important as commercially there are payloads that may need to be conducted in a “weightless” environment and then be brought down without too much jarring. A parachute landing will not be suitable. My son who is very aerospace savvy was keen to be involved in some way and Project ThunderStruck was born. We will help do the low altitude testing – when I say low, i mean from 40Km altitude (25 miles)

Imagine a time when a 12 year student could design and build a supersonic glider 2.5m / 8ft long, attach it to a huge helium or hydrogen balloon and take it to the edge of space, release it, fly it into a dive back to earth that will reach Mach 1.5 / 1,800kph / 1,120mph and land it. Well that time is now and the student is Jason Brand from Sydney Secondary College / Balmain Campus. He is in year 7 and has already broken plenty of records with his hobbies. Breaking the sound barrier will be another cool record.

New Science, New Data, New Opportunities

Apart from the glitz of the big event in 6 months (a 12-year-old breaking the sound barrier) there is a lot of science being done. In fact the event side of this project will be funded by sponsors and the crowd funding will be for the additional science outlined below.

There is a commercial opportunity to design and create a winged re-entry vehicle specifically for delicate payloads and experiments that last for more than 4 minutes in a weightless environment (tourist sounding flights to space). These are experiments and payloads that would find a parachute landing too harsh. There is a final output of the work and that is a spacecraft for experiments or even a payload taxi service back to earth. The most important aspect of this work is determining the smallest size of a winged spacecraft that can remain stable during re-entry. There are three stages of the physical testing:

  • Transonic – Project ThunderStruck in 6 months time
  • Reentry from space (delivered on a sounding rocket – no orbit); 2-3 years away.
  • Re-entry from orbit; 6 years away

There are two science components to the upcoming testing over the next 6 months:

  • Stability of a small aircraft at mach 1.5 / 1,800kph / 1,120mph and lower speeds for landing
  • testing a new type of surface for high-speed flight. (not a heat shield)

Since Jason has experience and a fantastic track record in High Altitude Balloon flights and flying remote control aircraft, he wanted to look after that first phase of the project. The transonic Phase. Transonic flight is the flight around the area of breaking the sound barrier. All sorts of problems occur near the sound barrier. When we drop the aircraft from 40Km altitude, first we have to get through the sound barrier as the drag increases significantly, but once through the barrier, the drag essentially reduces until your speed increases further. The real testing then commences as our tests will be about slowing, not increasing speed. We will be measuring the behaviour of the craft and airflow over the surfaces.

Project ThunderStruck has Commenced Flying Tests

Just in case you are concerned that this is all talk and no action, we started test flights in Sept 2014. The results are simply amazing and we will use them to refine our project.

The event will take 6 to 9 months to complete and the testing is the most important aspect of this project. It is new territory for us and almost the entire world. There is still fresh science to be done and innovative ways to use new materials and designs. Recently we learned a lot when a non-aerodynamic payload (space chicken from Clintons Toyota) reached speeds of 400kph / 250mph with its parachute deployed. This is because the air is pretty thin up at 33.33Km or 1/3 the way to space. Our payload took several measurements during the fall.

Rankins Springs Free Fall UpLift-19The space chicken was a simple test and we are now happy that we can easily fly at speeds of Mach 1.5 in the very thin air high up in the stratosphere. Left is a picture of the chicken falling back to earth at 400kph. Even the parachute could not slow the payload in the thin air. It slowed down as it reached 28Kms altitude and the air got a bit thicker.

We have started fund raising as we need help to cover the costs of the science parts of the project. Once we know what we have, we can decide on the extent of the program. We need $20,000 or more just for science and we have turned to crowd funding for that.

We have some “Perks” as part of crowd funding that I hope you will love. Some of our payloads will go supersonic before the big event, but they will not be aircraft. We might even donate one of our supersonic payloads to a generous contributor.

STEM – Project ThunderStruck set to Inspire Kids Worldwide.

Fighter jets break the sound barrier every day, but this radio controlled aircraft has no engine, weighs 9Kg (20lbs), is 2.5m (8 ft) long. So the pilot must be a really experience Top Gun to fly this plane at 1,800kph (1,120mph)? Well, no. His name is Jason Brand and he is 12 years old.

This is probably one of the most important demonstrations of STEM education that you can support. This is beyond the ability of almost every adult on the planet, yet a 12 year old student is set to inspire kids around the world with a daring project that is pure STEM – Science Technology Engineering Mathematics. It will make the seemingly impossible the domain of the young if they choose to break down the barriers imposed by themselves or others. Not only that, there is real science going on here.

Your Assistance is Essential

Your crowd funding help now is essential. It gets us started immediately. Flying balloons to the edge of space for testing is an expensive exercise and we have a 7 hour drive each way to get into areas of low air traffic away from the major aircraft trunk routes. We also have to buy a lot of radio systems to allow remote control from the ground when the glider is up to 100kms distance.

You can click on one of the 2 crowd funding links at the top right of the page. Even $1 will help unlock new discoveries and bed down older science.

Who is Jason Brand?

He is a 12 y/o student from Sydney Secondary College, Balmain Campus in Sydney, Australia.

He carried out his first High Altitude Balloon (HAB) project at age 9 and was so inspired that he sat for his amateur radio license at 9 years old. Since then he has launched a total of 19 HAB flights and recovered all 19. Some flights were in Croatia where mountains, swamps and landmines are risks not seen in Australia. He is also the Student Representative for Team Stellar – A Google Lunar X-Prize team attempting to get a rover onto the moon.

J20130414 Jason Brand on the Fuzzy Logic Science Showason appears on Radio and TV regularly and the picture right shows him talking about HAB flights on Canberra’s Fuzzy Logic Science Show in 2013. He is also a member of the Australian Air League, Riverwood Squadron. He plans to solo on his 15th birthday.

His father Robert Brand is an innovator in creating low cost solutions for spaceflight. He speaks regularly at international conferences, is a regular guest lecturer on aerospace at Sydney University, writes about aerospace and takes a very “hands on” approach to space. He supports Jason’s project fully.

How will ThunderStruck work?

The same way that the first pilots broke the sound barrier: in a steep dive. The problem is that since there is no engine and the biggest issue is air resistance, Jason will launch the aircraft from over 40km altitude or nearly half way to space! He will get it there on a high altitude balloon. The air is very thin at that altitude and the craft should accelerate past the speed of sound before it is thick enough to slow it down. A tiny fraction of one percent of the air at sea level. During the dive, the craft will accelerate to well over Mach 1 and way less than Mach 2 and will need to be controllable by its normal control surfaces to pass as an aircraft. As the air thickens at low altitudes, the craft will slow and with the application of air brakes will slow and then be levelel off for normal flight to the ground.

The Technology

We will have a camera in the nose of the aircraft and it will transmit TV images to the pilot on the ground. Jason will be either in a darkened room with a monitor or wearing goggles allowing him to see the view from the on-board camera. This provides what is known as First-person Point of View (FPV). The aircrafts instruments will be overlaid on the video signal. This is known as “On Screen Display” or OSD. Below is a view typical of what will be seen by Jason as he lands the craft.

osdThe video signal must travel over 100kms to be assured of the craft being in the radius of the equipments limits. Similarly we must send commands to the control surfaces of the radio controlled aircraft. Again this must work at a distance of over 100kms. The craft has ailerons, elevators and rudder as well as air-breaks and other systems that need controlling. We will use a 10 channel system to ensure that we have full control of every aspect of the craft and a “binding” system will ensure that only we can fly the aircraft.

We will have to buy 2 x $5,000 GPS unit capable of sampling at what is essentially the speed of a missile. These are highly restricted items, but essential. The unit will record to an SD card and send back telemetry every second. It is essential to know the speed during the flight rather than waiting until after the event. After all Jason needs to knowthe speed to be able to fly the aircraft. We will also need 2 x radar responders to allow other aircraft and air traffic controllers to know where our craft is and our balloon is at any time.

The Big Event

We can expect global TV News coverage of the event and many records to be broken. The day will start by filling a large Zero Pressure Balloon like the one pictured below.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe balloon will carry the aircraft to over 40km where it will be released and go into a steep dive and break the sound barrier. As the air thickens, the speed will slow and the craft will be pulled out of the dive and leveled off to drop speed. The aircraft will eventually land and data and video records will be recovered. We will already know the top speed, but there is nothing like solid data rather than radio telemetry that may miss the odd data packet. Both the balloon and the aircraft will be transmitting live video.

There will be opportunities to attend, but it is likely to be in a rather remote part of the state (NSW, Australia) or a nearby state. The flight will be broadcast over the Internet and the opportunity to track and follow the flight will be available to all. The chance to be involved is high and the science and inspiration will be out of this world. Project ThunderStruck is set to thrill.

Visit our sister site wotzup.com for more space and balloon stories

Super Sale – 48 Hours only

IMG_7340Super Sale – Weather Balloons, HAB Flights and More – 48Hrs

Live in Australia?

Monday 17th November 4pm: We are, as always, raising funds for our Project ThunderStruck. Live in Australia and want weather balloons, want us to take your payload to the Stratosphere, or want to rent HAM radio tracking gear?

Sale Ends 4pm Wednesday 19th Nov 2015

Learn to Launch and Recover HABs

HABs? High Altitude Balloons. We can do just about anything. We can even take you along with us and show you how its done. It is the full course on flying payloads into the stratosphere. Just $500 per car and you drive your own vehicle – it must be in good condition and suitable for dirt roads.. We launch from west of West Wyalong in southern central part of NSW. The course is hands on and you will get to have a tracking radio in the car and be part of the recovery team. You cover all your own personal costs including road assistance coverage, etc.. You will also need a wireless enabled tablet – preferably Telstra connected and a mobile phone, again preferable with Telstra connectivity. Conditions apply. We may be flying this weekend. Maximum people in one car for the above price is three.

Balloons for Sale

We current have 30 x 100 gram  balloons at $10 each + $15 delivery for 1 or 10. We have 2 x 500 gram balloons for $100 delivered in Australia by express post, a 350 gram balloon at $75 delivered in Australia express post and some older 3Kg balloons for $200 each – no guarantees. They are probably 3 years old, but that is all I know.

Helium

We can even rent you 3.4 cubic metre helium bottles (Size E) and balloon regulators. These need to picked up from and returned to Sydney and require substantial deposit of $700 per bottle fully refundable. At this stage it is cash only as we do not carry credit cards. It is also $2 per day per bottle after 1 week’s rental if overdue.

Radios, GPS, Cameras

The HAM radio equipment includes:

  • Yaesu GPS enabled APRS tracker VX-8 two way radio – VHF / UHF dual band
  • Byonics MT-400 APRS trackers – pre-configured with your call sign and SSD
  • GPS units for MT-400
  • Spot 2 and Spot 3 trackers
  • GoPro cameras with external connections for Lithium Iron batteries
  • Lithium Iron Batteries and charger
  •  antennas

Send your Mascot or Sign to Near Space?

We can do it for $1,200, down for the sale from 1,500 and that was a special deal already – marked down from $3,000. Conditions apply.

Payment

Sale ends at 4pm Wednesday 19th November 2015 EDST

A 50% deposit must be made tomorrow (Monday) at a CBA branch OVER THE COUNTER to get this sale discount or goods with the balance on most items by Wednesday. This sale ends Monday at 4pm, but call me to negotiate a price after 4pm. For details on the rental of radio equipment and gas bottles – you can call me on 0467 545 755 or call 02 9789 2773 and leave a message if I am unavailable. You may have to ring for a while to go to the messaging service.

Want to see when we have the next sale. Subscribe to our RSS feed to get our posts and be ready.

http://projectthunderstruck.org/feed/

RFDesign is our latest Supporter

RFDesign-LogoRFDesign to Keep us In Touch

Our Latest Supporter.

RFDesign makes a fantastic modem and other items used in long distance UAVs and other projects. The modem is small and light weight and has amazing capabilities.

RFD900V12_final__42922.1405412794.220.220I have spoken with the head of the company, Seppo Saario. He is a real great guy who quickly got behind Project ThunderStruck. We have discussed their modems before, but this is the first time that we can actually use their equipment in a project, although we intend to use the modems in a lot of balloon projects. This will especially be the case in the coming weeks as we test for ThunderStruck. Given a good yagi antenna on the ground and a well oriented patch antenna on the aircraft, communications up to 80km is possible.

We intend to use these modems for the two way data from Thunderstruck. The units operate at 900MHz and produce  about 1 watt. Two units are paired on the ground by setup via a PC. They can communicate at speeds of up to 56Kb nominally or even higher. Way faster than our needs. Rather than the usual APRS system that we currently use that give updates every 20 seconds or the Spot3 system that updates every 10 minutes, this system is capable of 1 second updates of speed and other data. Our flight controls will also be very responsive if coupled correctly. They will work well with the PIXHAWK flight controllers and I have some good news about support from them shortly.  Just a simple cable is needed to connect the PixHawk Autopilot to the RFD900

pixhawk_store  Cable_R9A_PIX__72503.1405428336.1280.1280_medium

More on PixHawk later. Now about this amazing modem. From their website:

RFDesign is an electronics design and manufacturing company specialising in Embedded systems, Radios, Antennas and high frequency electronics. We are located in Brisbane, Australia with our office located in Acacia Ridge, QLD. 

Features:

  • Long range >40km depending on antennas and GCS setup
  • 2 x RP-SMA RF connectors, diversity switched.
  • 1 Watt (+30dBm) transmit power.
  • Transmit low pass filter.
  • > 20dB Low noise amplifier.
  • RX SAW filter.
  • Passive front end band pass filter.
  • Open source firmware SiK (V1.x) / tools, field upgradeable, easy to configure.
  • Multipoint software capability with MP SiK (V2.x)
  • Small, light weight.
  • Compatible with 3DR / Hope-RF radio modules.
  • License free use in Australia, Canada, USA, NZ

 Interfaces:

  • RF : 2 x RP-SMA connectors
  • Serial: Logic level TTL (+3.3v nominal, +5v tolerant)
  • Power: +5v, ~800mA max peak (at maximum transmit power)
  • GPIO: 6 General purpose IO (Digital, ADC, PWM capable).

Specifications:

  • Frequency Range:  902 – 928 MHz (USA) / 915 – 928 MHz (Australia)
  • Output Power: 1W (+30dBm), controllable in 1dB steps ( +/- 1dB @=20dBm typical )
  • Air Data transfer rates: 4, 8, 16, 19, 24, 32, 48, 64, 96, 128, 192 and 250 kbit/sec ( User selectable, 64k default )
  • UART data transfer rates: 2400, 4800, 9600, 19200, 38400, 57600, 115200 baud  ( User selectable, 57600 default )
  • Output Power: 1W (+30dBm)
  • Receive Sensitivity: >121 dBm at low data rates, high data rates (TBA)
  • Size: 30 mm (wide) x 57 mm (long) x 12.8 mm (thick) – Including RF Shield, Heatsink and connector extremeties
  • Weight: 14.5g
  • Mounting: 3 x M2.5 screws, 3 x header pin solder points
  • Power Supply: +5 V nominal, (+3.5 V min, +5.5 V max), ~800 mA peak at maximum power
  • Temp. Range: -40 to +85 deg C

Software / GCS Support:

The software solution is an open source development called “SiK” originally by Mike Smith and improved upon by Andrew Tridgell and RFDesign. A boot loader and interface is available for further development and field upgrade of the modem firmware via the serial port.

Most parameters are configurable via AT commands, Eg. baud rate (air/uart), frequency band, power levels, etc., please see the 3DR wiki for commands below for now.

V2.x firmware has been updated to support multipoint networking on the RFD900.

V1.x (non multipoint) is suitable for point to point links – the sourcecode is located at:   https://github.com/RFDesign/SiK

The user manual / datasheet can be found here : RFD900 Datasheet

A software manual for SiK firmware is here : RFD900 Software manual

RFD900 configuration tool: http://rfdesign.com.au/downloads/

RFD900 binary firmware repository: http://rfdesign.com.au/firmware/

3DR/RFD900 compatible configuration tool : http://vps.oborne.me/3drradioconfig.zip

Wiki for the 3DR radios (RFD900 has same commands): http://code.google.com/p/ardupilot-mega/wiki/3DRadio

Integrated support for configuring the RFD900 radios is supported by APM Planner, with other GCS solutions in development.

The default settings are at 57600 baud, N, 8, 1, and 64k air data rate.

Software features include:

  • Frequency hopping spread spectrum (FHSS)
  • Transparent serial link
  • Point to Point, or Multipoint networking
  • Configuration by simple AT commands for local radio, RT commands for remote radio
  • User configurable serial data rates and air datarates
  • Error correction routines, Mavlink protocol framing (user selectable)
  • Mavlink radio status reporting (Local RSSI, Remote RSSI, Local Noise, Remote Noise)
  • Automatic antenna diversity switching on a packet basis in realtime
  • Automatic duty cycle throttling based on radio temperature to avoid overheating

website, http://rfdesign.com.au for more information.

TV – You Never Know

Croatian NewspaperTV, it Happens All the Time

by Robert Brand

As crazy as it sounds for a 12 year old, Jason appears on TV, Radio, Online and Newspapers all the time. He is also seen in other people’s presentations at space and education lectures all the time.

We were flying to Frankfurt earlier this year and I spotted a newspaper being read a few seats further up in the aircraft and saw a balloon and few familiar faces in the pictures, including Jason’s picture. Yes, it was another story about our balloon flights to the Stratosphere in Croatia. It seems that Jason is getting noticed all over the world, but is not so well-known here in Australia. In fact Jason has been on TV more in Europe than Australia.

I expect that the success of Project ThunderStruck will change that. I asked if I could snap a picture of the newspaper article and that is it top right on this page and a bigger version at the bottom of the page. Both Jason and I are in the photos.

These are all pre-ThunderStruck days, but it might help with the credibility of Project ThunderStruck to know that Jason indeed has the skill set to make this a reality and he has demonstrated a commitment to the work and the science.

I just did a search of videos and discovered more stories about the Croatian balloon flights and more video of Jason and I. the video below is from a Croatian TV show called Briljanteen and shows the background to the flights, the preparation and one of the experiments conducted on the flights. I believe Australia gets a mention in the video, but since I do not speak Croatian, I do not know what they are saying!

I also found a video made from photos taken during our visit to the Croatian President. He wanted to meet the Australians that flew the University payloads to the stratosphere. It was also an opportunity to brief the president on the work of team Stellar. We even brought a model of a lunar rover.

Below is a picture of Jason meeting Croatian President Ivo Josipović

Jason Brand Meeting the President of Croatia - President Ivo Josipović

Jason Brand Meeting the President of Croatia – President Ivo Josipović

Below is the enlarged picture of the newspaper article that I spotted:
Croatian Newspaper

 

ThunderStruck Momentum Builds

ThunderStruck support from MASNSWThunderStruck Gets Backing

We were supposed to be flying a High Altitude Balloon Payload to 33.3Km this weekend, but that quickly changed when we saw the Griffith area forecast. Rain, top temperature of 22C and probably winds. So we are staying home and postpone the trip a week or two, depending on the weather.

None the less that disappointment hardly tarnishes what has been a great week with progress each day. The big announcement is that we have now received backing from the Minature Aero Sports NSW. The type of support is being negotiated, but they support the innovation and Jason’s attempt on the sound barrier. The piece below is from their website:

http://masnsw.org

MASNSW

Miniature Aero Sports New South Wales Inc. is a State Association of Model Aviation Clubs that actively promotes the sport of Radio Controlled Model Aviation within New South Wales, Australia. It also represents the interests of its many club members on a National level through its affiliation with the Model Aeronautical Association of Australia Inc MAAA . Over 95 Model Aviation Clubs are currently registered with MASNSW. These 95 plus Clubs contain comprise in excess of 2300 members, making MASNSW one of the largest of the Australian State Associations.

On Thursday night, Bob Carpenter, his wife and Tim Nolan met with Jason and I and we went over the project, the expectations and the realities. Bob and Tim were supportive and took the project to the committee and they have had a positive response to out request for support. I look forward to telling you the outcome in the next month – the fine details of the support.

logoThe Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering

The information below is from their website:

http://thewarrencentre.org.au/

Throughout the past three decades of operating, The Warren Centre has delivered many innovative projects through industry collaboration and support, which have advanced the discipline of engineering and related fields. These initiatives have led to new approaches in Australian infrastructure, technology and engineering, providing greater links between government and industry with viable opportunities for wealth creation. The Warren Centre continues to deliver projects that drive innovation for industry. Please contact us if you would like to know more about our current projects, other Warren Centre initiatives or to become part of the Warren Centre network.

The Warren Centre is located in Sydney university, close to the Aerospace Department, where I give the odd guest lecture. This week they asked whether Jason and I would be guests at their dinner in early February. Given the guest lecturer, we would be stupid to say no!

Brian_lecture

I suspect that Jason will get a real kick out of meeting with Professor Brian Schmidt. Dare I say that it will “expand” his views of the universe. Go look up what Brian contributed to the world of science if you missed the reference.

We are so looking forward to being guests of the Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering!

 

YAA_LOGOYoung Achiever Awards

Jason has been nominated for the NSW Young Achiever Awards – Science Leadership.  March 21st will be the big dinner and if he does well, then may be he will be in the final selection.

There are a few other nominations in the offering, but credibility is key to our success and I see these nominations as a way to have others vet this project and tell the world that it is for real. Telling the world that a 12 year old will break the sound barrier do seem a little “out there”. but my close friends know that we live on the edge of what is possible. Jason and I have the same drive and the same adventurous spirit.

http://www.awardsaustralia.com/young-achiever-awards/nsw

General

There is way more happening, but I can only tell you what we are allowed to make public at this stage. I look forward to our next update.

Apollo 11 Interview in Full

Robert Brand at a recent London Space Conference

Robert Brand at a recent London Space Conference

Apollo 11 Interview – Spaceflight Magazine

by Robert Brand

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.bis-space.com/2014/11/06/13775/saving-apollo-11

 

Fund Raising – Save the Cassowary

Rebecca McLaren, ABC North QueenslandCassowary to Near Space and ThunderStruck

We have been doing some fund raising and generating awareness of ThunderStruck. We have also been trying to generate awareness for other worthy campaigns too, using our balloon technology. Here is a recording made yesterday 14th November 2014 with Rebecca McLaren on ABC North Queensland radio. Paul Webster is being interviewed and mentions Project ThunderStruck. Paul has been instrumental in helping us in many ways and we are supporting him and the Cassowary in return. Listen to the recording and enjoy the fun of this awareness project. Learn about this amazing bird and its flight.

If you would like to learn more about Cassowary you can go to the Cassowary TV channel on YouTube. The link is below.

https://www.youtube.com/user/CassowaryTelevision

Below is the 10 minute interview on the project that was broadcast yesterday:

Below: See Paul Webster and a cassowary in this short introduction to Cassowary TV