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

3 comments on “Moon Mars and Beyond.

  1. I love how every little start-up , or small space project in Australia is promising to jump-start or boost the industry…. and then you get down to the technical details…and there are none.

    Just vague promises of (literal) Moon shots. Too many dreamers in this industry. Sure, it’s good to dream, but I’d have slightly more confidence if these folks were actual propulsion or aerodynamic specialists. A reasonably designed website wouldn’t go amiss either.

    I’m surprised that the word “quantum” has not appeared on the site. That’s a good yardstick for detecting BS usually. Anyone who tries to sound smart by using the word “quantum” (with the exception of actual scientists) is just a fraud.

    I sense no fraud here- but this Mars shot will never happen. Just like Mars One and for similar reasons (vague technical details)

    • Lucas, Great to have your comments on the site. Seriously. It will give me a chance to address the problems that you see. First, let us look at who is backing the project with resources, testing systems and equipment as needed – The Australian Defence Scientific & Technical Organisation – DSTO. The government has an interest in phase one of this project and I hope that they will continue to support us through all the test phases. Simply I cannot and will not put precise information on the page for two reasons. Commercial-in-confidence and the need to change the phase two and phase three craft from the results of testing in Phase one tests. There are another couple of serious Aerospace companies on board too, but they will not appear until the contracts are signed. Keep watching

      We also have not gone into too many details as the business case is changing as customers make themselves known. We will unveil the designs in a logical and systematic way over time. I can say that our basic designs are along the lines of a mini version of Dream Chaser. The need to have a strong dihedral on the winds and a craft that is big enough to not flip over if the drag varies on a wing. We are trying for small as possible at this phase and the maths is in play. We are working to partner with an Australian University at this time and we are well progressed with one university. Keep watching for that announcement.

      Qantum – sure. This is a real system that we are building and a real system does not need to discuss anything quantum with its readers. Today I was at a Laser lab as we are looking to develop a laser reflector tag system for navigation purposes. The word quantum was used! …but then again, by scientists.

      My credentials – please read them from the bio page. If it is not on there, I am a guest lecturer on Aerospace Engineering at universities all over the world and I have given the odd lecture at Sydney Uni. I gave three presentations in one year at the International Space Development Conference in San Diego in 2013. Buzz Aldrin even sat in on a navigation lecture. I know my stuff. I have awards on my wall from NASA even worked on Apollo 11 comms here in Sydney at the grand age of 17 at the NASA switching centre for the Parkes and Honeysuckle Creek feed. A media converter got blown up by connection to the wrong voltage and they grabbed me to help. I was seconded to ESA for the Giotto probe to Halleys Comet and also helped with two voyager encounters (Uranus and Neptune. Voyager and Giotto saw me stationed at the Parkes Radio Telescope. I will not sty that I am a scientist, but I pass the engineer tag.

      No Moon shot. We don’t want to screw up the navigation getting to close to that thing. Trust me, other than a selfie of the Earth with the moon in frame, there is no benefit in going to the moon to test the ion engine. A further reason is that we will power out of the earth’s orbit with a direct launch towards our objective and that leaves zero room to maneuver if we wanted to go close to the moon. Too close and we would “burn” the ion engine resources (“fuel”) trying to correct a navigation problems caused by being too close or too far away. You just cant judge it right from a launch and there would be no time for an ion engine to correct anything before encountering the moon.

      You have encountered our blog at this stage. The commercial website will come after the phase one tests. We will be testing a system on the upper wings to cause a very structure delamination of the air flow on the wing Some parts will have little disruption and some will have a lot. The nodes of delamination along the wing will create significant drag will the areas unaffected will help to maintain control. in the phase two spacecraft, the lessons learned will be expected to dramatically slow the crafty down. We are hoping that the craft will end up being 3m long and no longer than 5m if we need to create a bigger craft for stability on re-entry.

      Already the Australian Space Research Institute (ASRI) has given us backing. I have not published this yet as I want to be accurate and not put rubbish on the website. They are putting the level of support into words that they are happy with. Their comments are simple. Their OZROC rocket has stalled because it did not see a future. ThunderStruck is a game changer. It may well be the project to kick the rocket program back into top gear – or similar words. And their words, not mine.

      Lucas, we are happy to engage with you as we get this project fully underway, but if you see a problem with anything that we are saying, get back to us and we can hopefully help you get a better understanding before we announce the commercialization arrangements. ThunderStruck Phase one will be a public flight and anyone will be welcome to share the data. Why, so that we can engage with the HAM radio people and other non commercial group and get community involvement in what is essentially (I truly hope) a game changer. Thanks Lucas.

      P.S. keep an eye open for an upcoming post of an advanced navigation system under development for our craft. Maybe that will give you some feeling for the level of expertise being applied to the project.

  2. Lucas, some more details on the way, although it would be an overkill on the first test flight – a simple transonic flight in a craft that will not resemble the final product. We are about to start planing the mission profiles of the next two phases of the flight testing and we will also start the Mars flight plans that we have termed a “shakedown cruise” for the ion engine component.

    I expect that you are not aware of our background work in research for heat shielding or our (we expect) ground breaking navigation systems – and yes it is ground breaking in my opinion. I will happily invite you to have some time, one on one, with me via Skype or a phone call to brief you offline on some items that we will not publicly disclose to the world at this stage. If you want to understand my place in the space sector, this group of cover pages from Facebook my give a snapshot of my interactions with technology and other groups.
    It is by no way an exhaustive list of everything that we do. There was recently one secret government lab that we visited prior to a business arrangement and there were no photos allowed as is the case at all commercial establishments were new research is conducted. I can show you a ton of pics with me standing next to key people, but what would that prove. I tend not to do that. If you become satisfied that this is the real deal, I would urge you to post a new comment to that effect.

    You ask for details not yet in existence. Our mission plans are too far out there in time and the body of the winged vehicle is under development as part of a JV project. Even we do not yet have the rights to display what is being tabled. We have not even designed the details of the shape of the payload container that has to fit on all three flight bodies – winged, capsule and space only (no return to earth) bodies. If you have done any work on a spacecraft, you will also know very clearly that once you start designing your craft with the statement of capabilities in mind,everything changes all the time. if you need more mass for a stabilisation system, then you need to take it from somewhere else or the craft becomes heavier and the size of the craft may get bigger to compensate. The more mass, the bigger the rocket needed for launch or the less distance your craft gets on its way somewhere and the less profit. The design stage uses a living document that is always in flux. It has a life of its own. You appear to be asking for details when the phase three testing is 6 years away.

    I suggest that the very fact that we are not rushing into details that are not on the table makes this flight more realistic that anything that you have seen tables before. We are engaging with the right people and soon we will have interns and staff in place following the stage one flight.

    Maybe I should not have said anything so that I didn’t ruffle feathers like yours, but I print what is agreed and what can go public and i stand by that

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