Moon Mars and Beyond.

MoonMars300First the Moon and Then on to Mars.

It is important to have a goal and building a spacecraft of enormous capability is one thing. Proving it is another. After discussions with many people, it is clear that a flight to Mars is a clear winner, and so is the Moon. It seems that we have to decide – or do we?

I have therefore proposed a Moon flyby and on to Mars. We may not get too close to the moon as the change in direction may be too much to accurately set our trajectory to Mars and our ion engine will struggle to get us back on track. Keeping a distance from the moon will ensure that the trajectory change will be more predictable, but we will ensure that we get magnificent images of the moon and earth and maybe some great science too depending on our payload.

It will then be on to Mars for the cruise of a lifetime. The small blue dot and its moon diminishing with distance as the small red dot grows bigger.  This may not be our first flight of the commercial ThunderStruck craft, but it will cement our position in space as a major player in the space sector and clearly place Australia on the map. Well it is a continent in its own right, but if we distorted the size of each country to show its progress in the sector, we will see that we are a tiny dot compared to so many other countries.

So what Makes ThunderStruck Possible?

Two things: New materials that give access to space at a wide commercial level and secondly, the drive of those in the group. I was going to say skill, but I considered my own case and I realised if there was something that I lacked, I got the right people in to address it. The skill is important, but at a secondary level. I am sure Elon Musk did not know too much about building the incredible spacecraft that the world has come to love, but he did have the drive and in his case the funding. Crowd funding and sponsorship will be the initial funding models to get this on the go and financiers will likely fund the final phases of this venture. The dollars are of secondary importance but absolutely essential. Without them ThunderStruck will not fly. A solid and clear business case and a low change of failure will drive the dollars.

Moon Mars – Why Choose when you can Have Both?

This will create tight launch windows for a Moon Mars mission and create fewer windows too. In fact we will have to work hard to ensure the maximum number of launch opportunities are available. We will not want to wait another 6 months to get the combination right. If this happens, the moon will have to be sacrificed, but until then, we are adamant that it will stay.

Imagine bringing back images like the ones below taken from NASA’s deep impact mission

Lunar transit of Earth: photo by Deep Impact/EPOXI, 2008

Lunar transit of Earth: photo by Deep Impact-EPOXI, 2008

Learn more out this image at the link below:

So what will happen when we get to Mars?

There are several opportunities here and a space based camera is an old but true friend. Given the dollars spent so far by other countries, there is little that we could contribute to getting better pictures, so we will cross that off the list at this stage. Remember that things can change and this is not set in stone. I expect that the best way to demonstrate the changing face of space travel will be with new experiments and new technology. I suspect either a 200Kg lander, leaving the ThunderStruck craft in orbit as a communications relay or a more easily deployed set of cubesats that can each do science and again use the shepherding ThunderStruck craft as a communications relay, ensuring enough power to get the signal back to earth. Cubesats are tiny and they need to keep their power low. The relay is essential if they are to have power and space for their experiments.

Wings, Heatshield?

No wings an no heat shield are needed for this flight. After Mars, who knows. Out there somewhere would be my best guess. This flight will not be returning to earth unless there are strong reasons to build it with that capability before launch. it will need an ion engine and settling into a low Mars orbit will take time with an ion engine. So will any attempt to leave a Mars orbit. It will be a slow climb out of the Mars gravity well. This was not important leaving earth as we had the benefit of a chemical engine in the climb out of earth orbit. We left hot and fast. Once the chemical engine was exhausted, it was dropped off and the ion engine kicked in. Ion engines have tiny thrust but continuous and they are very efficient. They can however be difficult to get in and out of any low orbit around a planet. So the spacecraft will be a plain body with cooling systems and solar systems. It will have the usual electronics, thrusters and communications and that is about it other than the payload and payload bay.

Given the stripped down version of the craft, we can also manage bigger payloads. the bigger the payload, the less influence the ion engine will have, but if speed to destination are not your goal, then this is not an issue.  Having said that I expect that we will not have racing stripes!

I look forward to all the comments that this post will bring. and I know it will bring many. Check the Links on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin.

Below is a picture taken at a Mars simulation exercise here on earth. I was involved in a Methane detection experiment for Mars. It seems to have passed into oblivion, but it is great to have a Mars mission back on the table that is more likely to happen than one that hopes to compete to get a place on someone else’s craft.

Mars Methane Experiment - tested in a similation site in Northern Africa

Meet the Team: Nick Howes

Nick Howes – Our UK Astronomer and space GuruNick Howes and Charlie Duke.

by Robert Brand
That is Nick Howes (r) in the picture at right with Charlie Duke of Apollo 16 fame (l). I first met Nick At Spacefest several years ago and we “clicked” straight away. We have been great friends since and have bumped into each other at space conferences in Tucson Ar; Pasadena Ca and London. Space is very big, but the space sector here on earth is pretty small. Hey Nick played a wicked joke while I was talking to Buzz Aldrin, with the joke being on Buzz. I realised that if nothing else we would have fun together and space was the cement. Well there is more to the relationship than jokes. We are now into the serious stuff.
Nick is Project ThunderStruck’s UK based guy with a super big knowledge of the rocks in our solar system. He is our key guy on knowing were to go and how to get there – not the navigation, but definitely the location.  When we strap an ion engine on to the rear end of ThunderStruck, Nick is the guy that is there to guide our chief Navigator. He is soon to be announced so stay tuned. Back to Nick – this is Nick’s bio:

Nick Howes:

 Nick Howes is an amateur astronomer and formerly deputy director of the Kielder Observatory, as well as a freelance science writer whose work has included the European Space Agencies Science Portal and NASA Blueshift.

A Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, he has written for Astronomy U.S, Sky and Telescope, Popular Astronomy and many other publications and websites, including major work for the world’s largest telescope project, the Square Kilometre Array. A speaker at international conferences, he has shared the stage with Apollo astronauts, NASA MSL teams and some of the world’s leading experts in comet research as an internationally known speaker.

His images of comets and asteroids have graced the NASA home pages on multiple occasions. and have won awards and been featured by the like of National Geographic,The Times, Universe Today,, The Financial Times and Discovery Channel Science as well as multiple books and peer reviewed journals.

For 5 years, Nick was the Pro-Am Programme Manager for the twin 2-metre Faulkes Telescopes, one based in Siding Spring, Australia, where he has and is coordinating projects with the European Space Agency on their near Earth object program, ESO on massive star cluster observations and NASA’s comet observing campaigns as well as projects with the U.S based Space Science and Planetary Science Institutes monitoring a range of comets and their activity.

With the Planetary Science Institute and Space Science Institute teams Nick works on observations he makes with the 2-metre Liverpool Telescope in La Palma on cometary science relating to their morphology, and also controutes data to the Italian CARA comet research group on dust measurements for cometary bodies.

Nick has over 400 NASA ADS citations for observational work on comets and asteroids, and is in the Guinness Book of records for leading a team of UK Astronomers in creating the World’s largest image composite of the Moon taken by ground based observations.

A STEM ambassador in the UK, he has appeared on both BBC television and radio and he regularly features as the official astronomer for the BBC in the South West of England. He is also the tour leader for astronomy holidays in Africa and Oman and was technical consultant to the GEO Observatory in Andalucia, Spain.
If that is not enough for you, then I don’t know what is. Again, welcome aboard Nick and I look forward to seeing you a Spacefest next year in Tucson Arizona, USA.
Below is a photo of me with Nick Howes in 2012, when he played a wicked joke on  Buzz Aldrin atSpacefest:

Robert Brand and Nick Howes at Spacefest 2012

Robert Brand and Nick Howes at Spacefest 2012

ANSARI and Spaceports

ANSARI Enterprise LogoTalking to ANSARI

by Robert Brand

Again, I will preface this post by saying that this call was a two way information gathering exercise. Mind you we spoke for 1.5 hours.

ANSARI are all about Spaceports and the contact came from discussions with John Moody. John is working to establish a spaceport here in Australia.

What surprised me was the absolute unity in our thoughts about spaceports. This post is not about the fine points of our conversation, but to simply introduce you to the company and the work happening in spaceports globally. This is from the ANSARI Enterprise website:

ANSARI – About:

Ansari Enterprise is a venture launched in 2014 for the development of spaceports and supporting space communities to sustain the ports’ local space industries.  By providing consulting services in business development and networking as well as technical consultancy, we seek to accelerate the development of spaceports and their respective businesses.  For the supporting space community, we seek to bring together the appropriate businesses, industries and amenities, and promote coordination and cooperation to develop a comprehensive community that is able to sustain and grow.  We have advised our current clientele in the US and abroad in the development of their spaceports, businesses and communities.

​Ethan Chew ​CEO ANSARI Enterprise

​Ethan Chew ​CEO ANSARI Enterprise

Their Mission:

This venture will consult with client spaceport developers to develop real estate for Space Cities around spaceports to serve their communities of tenants and employees.  Such developments will provide residences, work spaces and commercial and service amenities to add value to the community.  We are working with International partners to launch our projects at aerospace communities to create on-site desirable living and working conditions and enhance attractiveness of those communities.

This venture also provides business development and technical consulting services to space businesses as spaceport tenants.  We connect these ventures to resources that increase their chances of success and forward their technology development.

So we spoke for 90 minutes and had to end the call as we both needed to do other work. We could have spoken much longer! I expect that there will be many opportunities with our businesses given the synergy or both viewpoints and also work opportunities.

I will keep you updated if there are new developments.

Meet the Team: David Galea

David GaleaDavid Galea – An Australian Rocket Man and Much More

by Robert Brand

I have know David for many years and it was a pleasure to invite him to be part of Team ThunderStruck’s core group.

David also works with me on Team Stellar – a Google Lunar X-Prize Team. There, he is head of the rocketry Division. David is here for the “Long Haul”. That is building the entire spacecraft. That has always been an option since the first time I spoke with him. He is located in Melbourne Australia – a one day drive from Sydney. None the less, it is very likely that we will meet in the the open parts of NSW when we launch high altitude balloons to test the ThunderStruck components.

As an Adviser to ThunderStruck, he will not be “hands on”, but maybe one day….

Biography for David Galea

David has devoted his entire life to the exploration of science and technology. Since his childhood, David would study the universe through books and telescopes. In college, David built the first school computer in 1982. He then used that same computer to track and communicate telemetry with various satellites to win an award in the Science Talent Search.

His career started when he began working for the largest communications company in Australia (Telstra) to design, build and test what was to be called “The Internet”. He has expertise in Risk Management, Green Data Centers, Information Technology, Project Management, Renewable Energy, Technical Design and Problem Solving.

Wanting to be even more involved in space science, David joined ASRI (Australian Space Research Institute) to take part in the deployment of large rockets from Central Australia in Woomera.

David spent several years with various universities in a consultative role to guide and assist with science projects, I.T. growth and risk mitigation issues.

David has also taken the role as a Science Teacher at a Government Secondary College in Victoria, Australia. David believes that S.T.E.M. (Science Technology Engineering and Maths) needs a push in local schools and has initiated activities such as Rocketry, Moonbots Robotics Challenge and Formula 1 in Schools as part of the curriculum.

David did not teach for the Income, rather, he taught for the Outcome. The outcome of his students is paramount. To inspire them to explore what was once impossible and expand their imaginations for their future. David’s current role is a Business Performance Analyst for a large global security company in Victoria, Australia.

David and Team ThunderStruck

Simply put, anything to do with rockets will rely on David Galea’s expertise. He will also assist with automation and robotics. I look forward to seeing David in our aerospace team for many years to come and as a shareholder and stakeholder in the company.



Meet the Project ThunderStruck Team

team_medium1The Project ThunderStruck Team

by Robert Brand

Over the next week I will introduce you to the entire team that makes up Project ThunderStruck. Remember that There are two parts to ThunderStruck the test phases and the total Spacecraft. Similarly, there are two types of people that we will introduce to you. Those that are helping with the test phases and those that are part of the core team, here for the “long haul” to build a spacecraft.

We are moving aggressively to ensure that we stay on our chosen time frame and we are also working for world coverage and support. I quite like the small image at top right as the team is lifting the direction from flat to “UP”- an obvious direction for a spacecraft.

The team is made up of people mainly from Australia, but we have invitations out to people from other countries that will be dedicated to making the project a global success.

Similarly we also have companies, universities and even government bodies supporting part or all of the project.

We will be letting you know the big picture, because it will be impossible to build this spacecraft without solid support from those that have the expertise in the relevant field. Similarly we may end up using old and outdated technology without the proper guidance and support.

Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF)

For instance, today I spoke with the Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF). Please note that before I go any further, there is no agreement or other offers associated with this first contact, but the contact is both important and mission critical in my opinion. The ANFF says on their website:


ANFF logoEstablished under the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS), ANFF provides researchers and industry with access to state-of-the-art fabrication capabilities through a network of 8 nodes including 21 institutions throughout Australia. The ANFF facility portfolio consists of over 500 instruments with projects valued at over $200m. ANFF nodes draw on existing infrastructure and expertise providing a critical mass of capabilities in their respective specialisations. Each node provides their facilities on an open access basis enabling researchers to engage in interdisciplinary research across the following fields:

  • Micro and Nano electronics
  • Microfluidics and MEMS
  • Bio-nano applications
  • Advanced materials
  • Sensors and medical devices
  • Photonics

ANFF provides services for both academic researchers and industry. Researchers are able to either gain direct access to facilities under expert guidance, contract for specialised products to be made or undertake contract research projects.

I believe that this group of laboratories, clean rooms, test centres, etc are an invaluable facility for the future of space. Under local staff guidance, it is even possible to be trained in the use of some specialised equipment and be able to use it with your own staff. Naturally there is a cost with this, but imagine if you needed to build, buy of create this yourself.

A later phone call to the University of NSW Aerospace Dept was also greeted with a strong welcome. There was a lot discussed and I have been invited to speak at an upcoming event on April 1st that is all about CubesSats. I mentioned John Moody in a recent post. He is building an Australian Spaceport. I understand that he is also speaking on the day.

As momentum builds so do the spin-offs. other groups are finding the project reigniting their stalled projects. Project ThunderStruck has become a catalyst in the space sector. Universities are looking for places for their students as interns. It is a rare thing to find intern work in the space sector here in Australia. Possible Joint Ventures are already on the table and we are considering our next steps.

ThunderStruck is about to become again embedded in the Australian mindset. First as a hit for ACDC and now as an Australian Spacecraft. Fly me to the moon maybe another song that we try out once we build the commercial version of the craft. Not to land, but to swing around the moon and on to Mars. Now that would be a nice shakedown cruise to check out the craft!

A Bit About the ThunderStruck Spacecraft

LegoBricks_1.jpgd498eb81-9774-46dc-ac4e-aa9800a21782OriginalThunderStruck Spacecraft Details

It has been spoken about before with other spacecraft design, but let’s put it clearly on the table. ThunderStruck is a multipurpose spacecraft designed as a carrier for your payload. It is modular. The systems on board will be designed to fit into a several configurations:

  • A winged vehicle for straight up and down flight, launched on a sounding rocket for microgravity experiments. The vehicle will need min or heat shielding and will land on a runway. A capsule and parachute is also a possibility.
  • A winged vehicle for LEO reentry. A capsule with heat shield and parachute is also possible.
  • A capsule for high speed reentry – a bigger heat shield and a parachute.

These are just a couple of the possibilities. Others are:

  • Laser or radio communications
  • optional ion engine for long distance travel
  • navigation aids
  • Power systems / solar configuration.
  • Cold gas or chemical thrusters

Of course there is more, but like a Lego system, these units will be basically a plug and play system. The units ensure compatibility and we can optionally open the payload doors if additional power or access to space is needed. The doors may have solar panel deployment.

We expect that the craft will not be sold, but the service rented. Place your payload in the spacecraft and we will take it where it is needed, we can swap out payloads and take on new payloads and we can return. It is expected that we can also stay on station and control the attitude, etc of your experiment for many years with no expectation of the craft returning to earth. ie no heat shields, no parachute.

If we are to rent such a service, it means that we also have to supply the mission control centre; backup centre; global links, receiving/transmitting stations and much more. The ThunderStruck concept is not just a spacecraft, it is a space service.

Ideally it would be great to have this small craft land in Australia, but if other countries wish to take part, spaceports around the world would be a consideration for a winged landing. With full autonomy on landing, once the destination details are uploaded, the flight systems will fully control the flight all the way to the ground, but given that this is a glider, it would need priority on the landing spaceport runway and the airspace to lead into the landing strip. This would suit dedicated spaceports where the runway is not for commercial aircraft landing or incoming spacecraft have priority.

Okay, there is a glimpse to the long term ThunderStruck spacecraft and its mode of operation. All comments appreciated.

There is one more important factor soon to be made public – the ThunderStruck team! Also the associations that we are making with important companies. Stay tuned for details.