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.

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


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).


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

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: http://www.smh.com.au/technology/sci-tech/boy-12-aims-to-break-the-sound-barrier-20141013-115i4v.html

SMH, etc Tech story: http://www.smh.com.au/technology/sci-tech/ask-fuzzy-superpressure-balloons-reach-for-stars-20141009-113kr7.html

Daily Telegraph: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/breaking-news/year-old-wants-to-break-sound-barrier/story-fni0xqi3-1227089019536

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.

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.