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

Press Release 1

Jason recovering Payload Cameras gets his photo snapped

Jason recovering Payload Cameras gets his photo snapped. Robert Brand top right

Press Release 1 – 12 year old to Break the Sound Barrier

Thursday 9th Oct 2014

Release Date: IMMEDIATE

12 year old to Break the Sound Barrier

Sydney, NSW, Australia.

Jason Brand, 12 years old has commenced work on building a Remote Control Glider expected to reach Mach 1.5. He has worked with his father, well-known Space Entrepreneur, Robert Brand, on High Altitude Balloon launches since he was 9 years old. Coupled with his love of flying remote-controlled aircraft, Project ThunderStruck was born. Jason will use a massive high altitude balloon to take his glider to over 40km altitude (>25 miles) often called “the edge of space” and release it. The glider will dive through the extremely thin atmosphere and into the record books. It will be controlled from the ground via video and radio links and reach an expected top speed of around Mach 1.5 (1,800kph or 1,120mph).

Jason thought of the idea when his father was talking about a winged re-entry vehicle project that he has commenced. He was discussing the testing required at different stages of the flight and Jason realised that he could actually fly the tests for the transonic phase – the area around the breaking of the sound barrier.

Jason has been immersed in flying for many years. Since he and his father launched their first balloon when he was 9 years old. He was so inspired that he studied and passed his test to become a radio amateur operator (HAM) on his first attempt, again at age 9. 19 balloon launches later, they have maintained an unheard of 100% success in recovering their payloads. Jason flies radio controlled model aircraft, is a cadet in the Australian Air League (Riverwood Squadron) and is determined to solo at age 15. He has also be designing radio systems for long distance control and video. He will “see” from the cockpit camera via a video link and the instrumentation will be overlaid on the video. He will wear goggles and guide the aircraft through the dive, the leveling off at about 80,000 feet (24km / 15 miles) altitude. He will then fly the craft in for a landing.

Special tracking and GPS equipment will be required to verify the speed of the craft for the record books. Most GPS does not work above 60,000 ft and only special GPS systems will work near or above the speed of sound, like those used in missiles. Similarly the aircraft will carry a radar transponder that will advise other aircraft of the ThunderStruck aircraft diving at Mach 1.5. Even military aircraft do not get much over 80,000 ft and controlled airspace is below 60,000 ft. This will probably be the highest balloon and definitely the highest aircraft in the world that day.

This has never been done before and let alone by a 12 year old. It showcases STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and the fabulous things that happen students are brought up to understand that most limits are there to be broken. Our motto is “New Heights and Breaking Barriers” and those include the Sound Barrier (1,233kph / 766 mph). Soon we will start our funding campaign as it will cost nearly $100,000 to make this a reality and we are looking for global support for such a spectacular event. On the day the event will be captured by cameras on the balloon, the aircraft and from the ground. These will be both live and also recorded. A live broadcast will be available on the Internet for the event scheduled for April 2015.

Website: http://projectthunderstruck.org

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Contact:   Robert Brand – homepc@rbrand.com   Australia:  02 9789 2773    Int’l: +61 2 9789 2773

Photos of Jason and Robert Brand on the Project ThunderStruck webpage are available for publication as is the logo and the CAD images of the aircraft.  http://projectthunderstruck.org/media/

Jason Brand (12 y/o), creator, designer, builder and flier of ThunderStruck

  • HAM radio operator since he was 9 years old
  • First balloon launch and recovery at 9 years old
  • Member of the Australian Air League – Hornets Squadron, Riverwood, Sydney – Cadet
  • Flying Radio Controlled aircraft since 2013
  • Launched, tracked and recovered 19 High Altitude balloons and recovered 100% (all 19)
  • Attends Sydney Secondary College, Balmain Campus – Y7 in 2014
  • Is the Student Representative for Team Stellar – a Google Lunar X-Prize team headed for the moon.

 

Robert Brand: Leading Australian space entrepreneur, Senior Adviser for Team Stellar, ex-OTC staff member, amateur radio operator, Public Speaker on Innovation, Social Media and Space with a focus on Australian Space. Proud father of three amazing kids.

Worked on Apollo 11 equipment at 17 years old, supported Apollo missions, Voyager missions, Shuttle missions and ESA’s Giotto mission to Halleys Comet. Several times he was stationed at the Parkes Radio Telescope.

With his son Jason he has launched 19 high altitude balloon mission and recovered all 19 – two of them were in Croatia. He has designed a mechanism to turn a weather balloon into a zero pressure balloon during flight. Many of the balloon flight have been commercial flights for customers.

End Press Release.

Project ThunderStruck Update 1

More News on Project ThunderStruck

Thanks for the support in both contributions of dollars and more importantly at this stage, getting the word out and helping with services. Tim Gagnon is a fine graphic artist from Florida and he has pledge support by offering to design the mission patch. If you have any thoughts about his skills, have a look at his website. I believe that he has done one or two before!

KSCartist.comKSCartist.com Fine Art & Graphic Design from America’s Space Coast

Spending Your Contributions

Now a little detail on how we will spend your contributions. I did say it would cost $80,000 and that was no exaggeration. For a start there is about $10,000 worth of electronics to buy and test for the final flight and that is just the TV link, the telemetry, the control system for flight, cameras, video from the balloon to see the aircraft and the release, the tracking systems for the balloon and the tracking for the aircraft, the balloon flight termination system. The balloon for the final flight will cost over US$10,000 and the helium will cost $3,000. We will have to buy 2 radar transponders to warn aircraft of our position and they cost $2,000 to $5,000 each (and are heavy too).

Every two weeks we will do a weather balloon flight to test the latest systems for Project ThunderStruck and these will cost between $1,000 and $2,000 dollars each and take up our whole weekend traveling and staying in hotels. Petrol alone costs us $300 for the trip and launching and recovering our systems. Below is a video of a launch we did in Croatia. You will see that it is very difficult and requires a lot of materials and you don’t always recover them. So far we have recovered 100% of our payloads, but one day….

phased circula polarised antenna - double mushroomThe GPS tracking system will be special as ordinary systems will not work at supersonic speeds. You need a special clearance to buy these and we need 2 and they cost $6,000 each.

The airframes will be expensive and we will need two. Jason has said that since most of our antennas are internal, the airframe cannot be made from carbon fibre alone or the signals will be severely attenuated. He will also need to have sections of the fuselage and possibly parts of the wing fabricated from a material such as Kevlar.

The picture, right, is an antenna that may be on the aircraft and shows why we must locate it inside of the airframe. It is a little fragile to leave out in a 1,800kph airstream!

 

CASA – Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority

Our Civil Aviation Safety Authority will also likely want us to travel to a remote part of the country for the big event. That will probably be one of our biggest costs – transporting all that gear and setting it up in the middle of nowhere and that is not a two person activity. We will need transport and accommodation for a huge crowd of people.

I look forward to telling you more about the technical parts of the mission in the next update for Project ThunderStruck.