The ThunderStruck Project

USSR BOR-4 breakdownProject ThunderStruck set to Break Barriers

by Robert Brand

Simply put, we are an Australian group – soon to become a company that is building spacecraft and rockets. Pure and simple we expect to eventually be launching our own payloads to space called Project ThunderStruck.

[The picture (top right) is a graphic doodle of the USSR BOR-4. We were just breaking down the structural elements of this 50 year old design to underpin our craft. Sure, designs and materials have changed, but we are working hard to analyse lots of craft to get the best out of their designers and their flight experience.]

The work at this time is in three main main areas:

  • Transonic research
  • Spacecraft design and build
  • Rocket design and build

This has resulted in three projects:

Transonic research is the “X” series of designs and flights

  • X1 The desktop design stage – the Roger Weiss
  • X2 Under construction – the Ann Lornie

You can read more here about why we have given the projects their respective names:

Renaming ThunderStruck’s Models

Spacecraft Design and Build

Commenced 9th July 2016. The project will be designated as the “S” series and the name will be the  “John Sullivan”. More on John Shortly, but John has been one of our strongest supporters over the years. The X1 will be a winged craft that will undergo tests in the upper atmosphere before hitching a ride to space. We are looking at a 2022 launch for the craft to orbit.

Rocket Design and Build


Commenced 12th July 2016. The project will be designated the “R” series. No name has been given to the R1 at this stage. Our first design will result in a static fire test in 2017. Initial designs for the fuel tanks are already underway and although on paper at the time of posting, they will soon have full 3D design information that we will make public on these pages.

The X2 Progress

20130414 Jason Brand on the FuzzyLogic ScienceShowWe are building and testing our systems, navigation, AI and landing systems. We will also test some new transonic small projects in the near future. The X2 is a small swift glider designed to be fast. We expect it to break records. Its top speed while under control will be Mach 1.5 / 1,800kph / 1,120mph. It will land at an airfield under a mixture of AI and manual control. The pilot is expected to be my son who is part of the team. He is Jason Brand (pictured right on Canberra’s Fuzzy Logic Science Show) and he is from Sydney Secondary College / Balmain Campus. Jason is at the time of posting 14 years old and has already broken plenty of records with his hobbies. Breaking the sound barrier will be another cool project. Although we started this a couple of years ago, issues with our civil aviation clearance has been a barrier. In the last couple of weeks, there is now a clear path to be able to fly the X2 and we expect that this will become a reality in early 2017.

New Science, New Data, New Opportunities

Apart from the glitz of 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 additional science that we will outline close to the launch date.

Since Jason has extensive 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.

STEM – Project ThunderStruck X2 set to Inspire Kids Worldwide.

Fighter jets break the sound barrier every day, but this radio controlled aircraft has no engine, weighs about 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.

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 high school 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.

The X2 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 equipment’s 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-brakes 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 a $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 know the speed to be able to fly the aircraft. We will also need 2 x radar transponders to allow other aircraft and air traffic controllers to know where our craft is and our balloon is at any time. They will eventually separate.

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 Queensland – possibly Longreach. 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 for more space and balloon stories.

8 comments on “The ThunderStruck Project

    • I have to say that I am disappointed with the response in general and so appreciate your support. With this appearing in the Australian press yesterday – a small article – thousands of people visited the site and including yourself only 3 people contributed. Is this an indictment of the Australian government’s lack of support for space, education, or youth? How poor a country are we that there is enough interest to read of one of the world’s great adventures and then fail to support it and our economy is in reasonable shape compared to the rest of the world. If every one that read this yesterday contributed $1, we would be ahead of our goal for sponsorship. Yes, I missed the first few hundred readers due to a sudden illness with Jason, our upcoming pilot, but after that, not a single contribution on KickStarter. Certainly a big disappointment, but it will not stop us completing the flight. After Kickstarter, there will be other ways to support us as we make this happen.

  1. Well maybe they just don’t all want to pay for another kid’s adventure. The records are meaningless, no new science is actually demonstrated here, and nothing of lasting value to anyone but you guys will be created. Just saying, that’s the way it looks from the outside (and you might want to go over your site for spelling and typos :)) Maybe less hype and more science on this site would help. Good luck with it anyway.

    • Hi Richard, thanks for the response and sorry the reply is so long, but it may help me tease out what is really needed here and your reply and others might just get this back on track.

      It is my first time with crowd funding and I expect that it is easy to miss the mark. Still, i have seen plenty of crowd funding to help others achieve goals. I failed to make that donation worthy. I will redo the project to explain the science and minimise the hype. It is a hard thing to do. One aspect is that a 12 year old is able to do this because of STEM education and lifting the barriers that most kids have placed in front of them and the barriers they themselves have that are them embedded in their way of thinking. So what is my selling point? That we are building an Australian spacecraft? Is it about a 12 year old breaking the sound barrier and doing science? Yes there is a ton of science here.

      What you don’t know is that I was waiting for this week’s meeting with a universityto finailise an agreement, but there is a need for a winged re-entry vehicle and the big issue is what is the smallest winged vehicle that can de-orbit and stay stable – ie, not flip over and burn up and will that shape stay stable in the transonic phase? Most likely, but we have to test. The transonic phase is simple using balloon technology to get to +40KM altitude and release the glider. The second phase of testing will probably be in the US on a sounding rocket with a return from 100Km. There are high Gs on launch, but the experiments that we would carry need a gentle landing back on earth and not a parachute landing. The third stage will be a de-orbit from a couple of hundred kilometres altitude.

      I expect the sounding rocket is 12 months after the transonic testing and the de-orbit is two years after that. As for the science in the transonic phase being readily available, no, it isn’t. Well, not the stability data that we need. There will be differences about the planes design that will be tested with sensors.

      There is a secondary science experiment that will look at drag on a new surface material. We will be testing a very flat, but rough surface material that will be designed to trap a layer of air molecules to make the surface more slippery to air flow. it is a bit like the way that dolphins have a rough skin to make them more slippery in the water and increase their speed and lower their effort. They trap water molecule that gather in the hollows and the slippery aspect comes from water sliding over water rather than water over skin. There has been little testing at transonic speeds for these materials and not much published as it is all commercial in confidence and not out there. When we do find it, there are still major differences that need experiments done.

      I will work on getting out the typos. It has been a hard week and there has been a real rush to put out something once we hit a trigger point in the event. My apologies if it did not measure up.

      As for things of lasting value, I would say that building a spacecraft that will deliver a new low cost taxi service for a large range of experiments is a definite benefit to the world. Jason’s event will be part of that. if you are Australian, there will be jobs created here in the space sector and next year I will be taking on interns for the first time and adding staff. Another benefit to Australian interested in developing a space sector, the radio and TV opportunities will be perfect for taking about the governments lack of support for the sector here.

      As for Perks, sure, hard to put a finger on what works here. I have seen KickSat do science, but I did not see any deliverables to me personally, but to science, yes. As expected the project was high risk and the KickSats failed to deploy. Sure, I owned a tiny satellite in orbit, but the science for my buck was pretty much zero. In our case there will be science coming back at every balloon launch and also the final event of the transonic phase. The risk is super low. There is nothing outside of our area of expertise, but we are bringing it all together at one time, so there is some risk of course, but no single point of failure – well will even have a second airframe for testing. If you want real deliverables, join with me in creating a serious space company if you have the skill set. Always looking for new shareholders with an interest in being involved.

      Again thanks for your words, I hear them loud and clear but it was hard to know how to focus this and it is now obvious that I have gone the wrong direction. Thanks for letting me know.

      • One more point that I obviously need to make clear on the website, the event is being paid for by the sponsors, the science payloads by the crowd funding. Jason’s fun / adventure is not a burden to the contributors. The more funding we get, the more science we do.

  2. So, if I understand it correctly, your ultimate selling point is low-g reentry for small payloads.
    There are several questions on my mind regarding your project:
    1. Since reentry is “cheap” compared to reaching orbit, how are you going to get to orbit?
    2. How are you going to de-orbit the spacecraft?
    3. How do you control the aircraft during orbit, deorbit burn, reentry and hypersonic flight as radio control will not work? Some kind of autonomous flight must be part of the plan, I guess. How are you going to achieve that?
    [ I assume you’re aware that radio control will only be applicable during final descent, since plasma, reaction times and time delays will be an issue in earlier flight phases]
    4. What kind of payload would benefit from your project?
    5. What kind of heat shield are you going to use?
    6. Since fluid dynamics during reentry and in the hypersonic regime have got very little to do with the low supersonic and transsonic regimes, isn’t it pointless to first build a supersonic glider, esp. as r/c controlled trans- and supersonic gliders have been launched from high altitude balloons since the late 1930s?

  3. The initial selling point is suborbital. Orbital may be way bigger once we are there, but this, initially will be via other company’s spacecraft. Let me answer your questions:
    1. As above, but one day we hope to compete in the orbital domain with Australian rocket launches.
    2. With a bit of “fireworks” up the “tailpipe”. We will use some serious liquid fuel and oxidiser capability. Depending on the duration of the flight – cold gas thrusters may be an option for stability.
    3. Orbit / de-orbit are done via ground and orbital satellite communications. These are standard systems, although we and others are always inventing new versions and methods of comms to maximise bandwidth and minimising cost. Yes – I mentioned it in another comment, we will be using some off the shelf systems augmented by a LADAR and visual systems for landing. If the visual is good and reliable, we may ditch the LADAR system, Although comms are down during the ionising phase of re-entry, other navigation systems remain intact and it will be able to return very easily during the flight. The system primarily just needs to stay stable and not burn up until comms return. it can then navigate to its destination.
    4. There are several types of payload. For zero G testing there are a wealth of customers wanting a ride to space For those flights with an Ion engine, even being a courier to return survey materials will be a great job
    5. The heat shield will be a part of another groups contribution. At that time the project will be commercial and JVs and other partnerships will be in place.
    6. I believe I answered that from you comment on another page. There are dozens of reasons to take this path, the biggest is getting the respect of being winners that can do what they say. It will bring financing, others contributors and more from the woodwork and be a test case for whether the government is serious about space as CASA will not let us fly at the moment..

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