45km Free Fall Spreadsheet

ThunderStruck Phase 1 Version 2Fine Tuning ThunderStruck’s 45km Free Fall

By Robert Brand and Todd Hampson

This post will examine a drop from 45km. Todd has done an amazing job on this interactive Excel spreadsheet. We can change a few variable and see the change effects. It has done an amazing job in letting us see what changes produce the greatest “bang for the buck”.

The first thing was changing the diameter of the craft creates a great difference in drag. We have decided that we need to make the fuselage 300mm in diameter (down from 600) as it have a huge effect on when the craft stops accelerating. It adds Mach 0.3 to the top speed. from a 45km drop. We also noticed that if we get the craft the right dimensions  and mass, the need to get the balloon to 45km is reduced. We can still break the sound barrier with a release from 40km altitude. At 45km we get a top speed of Mach 1.54 and at 40km we get Mach 1.36. This is also with a mass of 15kg rather than 10kg as we previously had though would be sufficient. We do not want to release much lower as things change rapidly with the thicker air.

Thunderstruck Drop Test Simulator

Thunderstruck Drop Test Simulator

Above is the top part of Todd’s spreadsheet, the coloured cells to the left allow different inputs and the cells on the right are the snap summary. The model that we have made only just got us over Mach 1 with little to spare. Changing the diameter and elongating the nose (a smaller 1/2 vertex angle of the cone) made a huge difference and making the mass 15km means a huge leeway. As mentioned on TV recently, we are aiming for Mach 1.5 and now we have the maths to prove that we can reach that speed. One interesting aspect of the reaching Mach 1.5 is that the deceleration by the thickening atmosphere is about 1.3G. Barely more than standing on the ground. It is a really gentle load and it is mainly on the nose cone of the craft. The wing and tail assembly will keep the craft oriented in the denser air and we will rely on the ballast in the front of the craft to keep it nose down.  The ballast is likely to be antifreeze and we can shift it or eject it for a more stable and slower level flight.

We hope to have the fully interactive spreadsheet available on the site for those interested, but until then let’s have a snapshot of the curves that count. That is a free fall from 45km.
Thunderstruck Drop Test Simulator Max Speed

At sea level, mach 1 is about 340m/s. I say “about” because air pressure has little to do with the speed of sound. It is mainly air temperature. From the graph we should reach 530m/s and that is Mach 1.56.

Before we streamlined the craft to punch through the thickening atmosphere, the wider bodied version of ThunderStruck slowed down really fast and took some stronger G force on the nose (mainly). The version 2 craft slows almost at the same rate that it accelerates. This gives a very gentle change as can be seen below.

Thunderstruck Drop Test Simulator Deceleration

From the graph above it is clear that at 45km, as the speed increases, the air resistance has a greater effect. At that height air density is about 0.025 10-1 kg/m3 compared to air density at sea level which is about 12.25 10-1 kg/m3 (plus or minus about 5%).

This means that our air density at 45km as a percentage of air density at sea level is about 0.284% that of sea level and it increases as we go lower. The effects also increase with ThunderStruck’s speed as the drag has a greater effect with both speed and increasing density.

With the calculated drag of the craft, we find that all acceleration stops at 26 km and as we fall into denser atmosphere, we begin to slow. The graph above is calculated in metres per second per second (known as m/s/s or m/s2) and that can be directly converted in to G force. Since 1 g = 9.80665 m/s2 a simple rule of thumb conversion to remember is 10m/s/s = 1G.

Now for many the next part of this may be hard to grasp, but at free fall at 45km we have what is loosely termed 0G where, if we were in a craft also falling at the same rate, we would float inside the craft. Once we reach terminal velocity at 26km altitude ( I will ignore the lag in deceleration here), we have 1G acting on the craft. If we were inside that craft we could walk around the interior and feel the same as on the earth’s surface (again small variations in gravity, etc excluded). A skydiver that has reached terminal velocity has the air flow stabilising his speed and that air flow has a force of 1G on his body. G force real is only noticeable when there is change – ie a change in direction or acceleration or deceleration.

The “vomit comet” aircraft that simulates zero G does so by moving steadily in a straight line while accelerating towards the ground at 9.8m/s2.  If they just dipped the nose and began that arc, but stopped accelerating towards the ground we would all feel an initial 0Gs but then would be back on the floor when the rate of change returned to zero and we would be back at 1G. So, with ThunderStruck, it is the rate of change that determines G force and at 26km altitude, the G force is 1G on the overall craft, but since the greatest drag is caused by the nose, the 1G force is felt here. Other parts of the craft would be happy to continue accelerating! So at 26km, the structural form of the craft must allow the nose to hold the craft by the nose vertically – good to know, but it does not stop there.

The craft continues to slow and decelerate with the denser air and we have to slow way more. That now takes us into the realm of more than 1G. In fact at 17km we experience the greatest rate of deceleration or change and that is an additional 1.25G for a total of 2.25G on the nose of the vertical craft.  That is the base amount of structural integrity we will need in the nose assembly. If the craft weighs 15kg, then the nose assembly has to support 33.75 and then an amount that we required to ensure it is strong enough. My design had better look to supporting 50kg on the nose when the craft is stood vertically at least.

It seems that what you gain, you have to give back. The higher the speed and the longer the period in low Gs, then the the higher the Gs or the longer in negative Gs you need to complete the flight back to a complete vertical stop. I have not analyses the areas on either side of the 0m/s/s on the chart above, but I would not be surprised if they where equal. As we say here – swings and roundabouts. What you gain on the swings, you will lose on the roundabouts.

Mathematics is a wonderful tool for designers. From a few simple facts in a spreadsheet, we have calculated the speed at all points in the flight (vertical dive perspective) and also the internal forces on the craft at many points. ie the winglet tips will be a point of high drag so they will need to handle more than 1G vertically. The same with other leading edges and that also goes for surfaces affected by shock waves. All of which can be determined by design and software. You don’t have to be a maths genius, but you do need to know maths enough to ensure that you can use them in day to day work. Unless you visualise what is happening, you will have an unhealthy reliance on software for everything you do. That often denies the genius of innovation. It is also why a novice can invent something a seasoned engineer fails to see.

By manipulating the graph by fine tuning the inputs we found that our craft accelerated longer or you could say “the rate of deceleration was slower” by:

  • Making the nose cone pointier
  • Making the fuselage (and the nose cone) a a smaller diameter
  • Increasing the weight of the vehicle

In fact with the new design we have found that we can still break the sound barrier at a starting altitude of 40km. that is our plan B if the weather or winds in the atmosphere go against us. ie, we can launch early if the winds are taking our balloon out of range of our communications systems.

So what does our new design look like?

This is an early look as there are a few bits at the rear that still need adjusting.
ThunderStruck Phase 1 Version 2

We also took the opportunity to correct a few other aspects of the craft:

  • Bigger wing Area with a larger area ahead of the main wing
  • Longer spikes on the winglets (the winglets are not as high due to the smaller fuselage). This is to move the supersonic shock waves away from the control surfaces on the rear of the wing.
  • Twin rudders trailing the craft (there are some wing tabs in the drawing that need to be removed.
  • A tapered tail to stop high drag behind  the craft (we also need to remove some wing tags in the model above.
  • Tapered rudders on the bottom to stop it hitting the ground on landing (not shown)
  • Tapered rudders on the top for symmetry to ensure that it has little differential in forces on the craft to make it pull out of the dive.
Bruce Boler and Jason Brand with ThunderStruck Phase One 1/6 Model

Bruce Boler and Jason Brand with ThunderStruck Phase One 1/6 Model

So there you have the new design based on maths and simulations on a home computer. It seems that building a supersonic aircraft is child’s play as Jason (12) is jointly working on this design. This morning I asked him what G force is at work on a skydiver at terminal velocity and he confidently answered “1G”. Good one grasshopper. He then went on to clearly say that g force was related to change in acceleration (relating to a skydiver). I love it when he talks maths. He needs to know as he will be the remote control pilot for this Mach 1.5 aircraft.

It is What We Do – Space Everyday

Facebook LogoEveryday Space becomes Space Everyday

by Robert Brand

Simply put, I began publishing stories about space and how everyday people could do so much in space (literally owning spacecraft and more). I had a strong communications history with space missions which has now migrated to become my day to day work. To give you a snapshot of that progress over several years, below is a couple of years of my Facebook Cover photos. You can see how much space work that Jason and I have been playing with. It is a real eye opener when you realise just how much I am not allowed to post. ie, I have been working on a provisional patent for stabilising a stratospheric craft in the atmosphere. It is revolutionary as it stabilises pitch, roll, yaw and holds the position against the upper atmosphere winds no matter where they come from. I can’t talk about it as anything I say will give away the key to the design. Such stratospheric airships will replace satellites as they are close to earth and the signal strength is higher, they are easily repaired and equipment is easily upgraded. The world is on the edge of technology that will bring us those airships in the next ten years.

So given that there i a lot missing, please enjoy the following page from our WOTZUP website

http://wotzup.com

 Our Space Life – Space Everyday

My son, Jason (12 years old at time of posting) and I live an exciting life with a lot of space and aerospace activities. I am a leading space entrepreneur with an involvement in hundreds of real space missions, mostly with NASA.

It is a real buzz having Jason so involved in space and High Altitude Balloon activities and of course, now ThunderStruck. We launch, track and recover payloads and we are truly the team with the best recovery rate in the world. After 21 flights we have recovered all 21 payloads! Two flights were in Croatia. These photos are from my Facebook cover page and they are updated regularly every 2-3 days. They detail the great stuff that can be done by anyone with the drive and determination to succeed. I get to travel the world as I am very involved in space and these travels and pictures with my friends are all shown below. Simply this is a set of “Robert and Jason Brand space photos”

As these are cover images, there will always be the odd picture that is about something dramatic that is not space – like the recent encounter with a snake in our front yard. I love snakes, but there are kids and dogs nearby and this one was mildly venomous! The pictures are mostly aerospace. As we live in Australia, most are taken right here in this vast and magnificent country.

You can find me on Facebook here:  http://www.facebook.com/Echoes.Of.Apollo If you wish to send me a friend request, please note that I have close to the 5,000 friend limit and cannot easily add more people.

Enjoy the images and stories. Everyday Space becomes Space Everyday:

From Cover Photos, posted by Robert Brand on 15/2/2015

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

TV – You Never Know

Croatian NewspaperTV, it Happens All the Time

by Robert Brand

As crazy as it sounds for a 12 year old, Jason appears on TV, Radio, Online and Newspapers all the time. He is also seen in other people’s presentations at space and education lectures all the time.

We were flying to Frankfurt earlier this year and I spotted a newspaper being read a few seats further up in the aircraft and saw a balloon and few familiar faces in the pictures, including Jason’s picture. Yes, it was another story about our balloon flights to the Stratosphere in Croatia. It seems that Jason is getting noticed all over the world, but is not so well-known here in Australia. In fact Jason has been on TV more in Europe than Australia.

I expect that the success of Project ThunderStruck will change that. I asked if I could snap a picture of the newspaper article and that is it top right on this page and a bigger version at the bottom of the page. Both Jason and I are in the photos.

These are all pre-ThunderStruck days, but it might help with the credibility of Project ThunderStruck to know that Jason indeed has the skill set to make this a reality and he has demonstrated a commitment to the work and the science.

I just did a search of videos and discovered more stories about the Croatian balloon flights and more video of Jason and I. the video below is from a Croatian TV show called Briljanteen and shows the background to the flights, the preparation and one of the experiments conducted on the flights. I believe Australia gets a mention in the video, but since I do not speak Croatian, I do not know what they are saying!

I also found a video made from photos taken during our visit to the Croatian President. He wanted to meet the Australians that flew the University payloads to the stratosphere. It was also an opportunity to brief the president on the work of team Stellar. We even brought a model of a lunar rover.

Below is a picture of Jason meeting Croatian President Ivo Josipović

Jason Brand Meeting the President of Croatia - President Ivo Josipović

Jason Brand Meeting the President of Croatia – President Ivo Josipović

Below is the enlarged picture of the newspaper article that I spotted:
Croatian Newspaper

 

ThunderStruck Momentum Builds

ThunderStruck support from MASNSWThunderStruck Gets Backing

We were supposed to be flying a High Altitude Balloon Payload to 33.3Km this weekend, but that quickly changed when we saw the Griffith area forecast. Rain, top temperature of 22C and probably winds. So we are staying home and postpone the trip a week or two, depending on the weather.

None the less that disappointment hardly tarnishes what has been a great week with progress each day. The big announcement is that we have now received backing from the Minature Aero Sports NSW. The type of support is being negotiated, but they support the innovation and Jason’s attempt on the sound barrier. The piece below is from their website:

http://masnsw.org

MASNSW

Miniature Aero Sports New South Wales Inc. is a State Association of Model Aviation Clubs that actively promotes the sport of Radio Controlled Model Aviation within New South Wales, Australia. It also represents the interests of its many club members on a National level through its affiliation with the Model Aeronautical Association of Australia Inc MAAA . Over 95 Model Aviation Clubs are currently registered with MASNSW. These 95 plus Clubs contain comprise in excess of 2300 members, making MASNSW one of the largest of the Australian State Associations.

On Thursday night, Bob Carpenter, his wife and Tim Nolan met with Jason and I and we went over the project, the expectations and the realities. Bob and Tim were supportive and took the project to the committee and they have had a positive response to out request for support. I look forward to telling you the outcome in the next month – the fine details of the support.

logoThe Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering

The information below is from their website:

http://thewarrencentre.org.au/

Throughout the past three decades of operating, The Warren Centre has delivered many innovative projects through industry collaboration and support, which have advanced the discipline of engineering and related fields. These initiatives have led to new approaches in Australian infrastructure, technology and engineering, providing greater links between government and industry with viable opportunities for wealth creation. The Warren Centre continues to deliver projects that drive innovation for industry. Please contact us if you would like to know more about our current projects, other Warren Centre initiatives or to become part of the Warren Centre network.

The Warren Centre is located in Sydney university, close to the Aerospace Department, where I give the odd guest lecture. This week they asked whether Jason and I would be guests at their dinner in early February. Given the guest lecturer, we would be stupid to say no!

Brian_lecture

I suspect that Jason will get a real kick out of meeting with Professor Brian Schmidt. Dare I say that it will “expand” his views of the universe. Go look up what Brian contributed to the world of science if you missed the reference.

We are so looking forward to being guests of the Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering!

 

YAA_LOGOYoung Achiever Awards

Jason has been nominated for the NSW Young Achiever Awards – Science Leadership.  March 21st will be the big dinner and if he does well, then may be he will be in the final selection.

There are a few other nominations in the offering, but credibility is key to our success and I see these nominations as a way to have others vet this project and tell the world that it is for real. Telling the world that a 12 year old will break the sound barrier do seem a little “out there”. but my close friends know that we live on the edge of what is possible. Jason and I have the same drive and the same adventurous spirit.

http://www.awardsaustralia.com/young-achiever-awards/nsw

General

There is way more happening, but I can only tell you what we are allowed to make public at this stage. I look forward to our next update.

Building a Workshop for ThunderStruck

Building the ThunderStruck Workshop3A Space Grade Workshop

Every boy and every man needs their man cave. Jason’s and my man cave has a  digital TV, radio and a small fridge.  That is where the frivolous part of our work gear ends. The rest is state of the art technology for building a spacecraft. As you know Jason has a big event in April next year – yes we are again trying for April 2015. He will be trying to break the sound barrier with a 2.5m long delta winged glider launched from over 41Km altitude. The trick is to be able to control it and to land it. There are three or four phases to his project, but none the less, the ultimate aim is a working spacecraft and you can’t just build those in your back shed…. or can you? There are three stages to the concept testing:

  • Transonic – Jason’s upcoming flight
  • Sounding rocket return from space – straight up and down
  • Re-entry from orbit

I am betting that with the right equipment I could build all three stages in my garage. I doubt that it will come to that and I expect stage three to be built in a well equipped laboratory and workshop. None the less stage 2 will go into space and i will probably do a lot of the early work right here, so our workshop has to be state of the art and we are starting out with a strip of test points right next to our workbench.

These are the test points and systems for building and testing the electronics of ThunderStruck. On the other side of the garage, we will be building the airframe and will have a bench with a frame to rotate the fuselage so that we can access every part of the craft. It will be nearly 3 metres long. The systems shown here are for mains; DC power, network; audio; antennas, signal generation, receivers, transmitters; amplifiers; earth; USB and much more. Out of site on the left will be a servo test panel for the digital systems for the ThunderStruck craft. That is Jason enjoying finishing the test panel.

It is also where Jason keeps his HF radio, so the workbench doubles for Amateur Radio activities. We will soon have an iGate for and VHF APRS gateway and a great place to as we dominate a hilltop in the heart of Sydney. Fellow Amateur Radio operators will know what I am talking about. That is Jason below with his radio. Behind Jason is our 50 volt and 12 volt supply rack and battery banks as well as many of our radio systems. There are two racks and to the right of them is a cupboard with about 32 draws for our smaller items.

Building the ThunderStruck Workshop

Below you can see the upper part of the test gear rack has a long way to go. Top left is our general computer – mainly for Internet access, top centre is our laboratory power supply. The bench is currently half width. As we toss out some old rubbish, we will be able to rid the area of equipment and double the width of the workbench

Building the ThunderStruck Workshop2

The moment we completed the work today, Jason built a Styrofoam aircraft out of scrap and he intends it to fly. None the less, the workshop is shaping up to be a phenomenal asset for building spacecraft. …..and what do two guys do with a spacecraft ready workshop? An easy guess – Build ThunderStruck of course.

About Jason – by his Father

IMG_3215A Father’s Point of View

by Robert Brand

There is no doubt that my son Jason has a talent. He is tenacious. Once he sets his mind to do something, he does not stop until he has it completed. Project ThunderStruck is one of those goals. He has the knowledge and experience in every aspect of the mission and although it seems daunting, he can put it together for a successful outcome. Let’s breakdown the stages of the mission:

  • Balloon flight to over 40Km altitude
  • Radio telemetry and control
  • Supersonic flight
  • Autonomous landing
  • Celebrations –  well we are all good at this, so enough said!

Balloon flight to over 40Km altitude

Jason started launching balloons with me at 9 years old and after the first flight and successful recovery he was hooked. As of the date of this post we have jointly launched and recovered 21 payloads including 2 in Croatia. He has battled large balloons with heavy payloads in 70kph ground winds and used 3kg weather balloons to take heavy payloads to 1/3 the way to space (33.33Km). He is the tracker and navigator that sits in the passenger seat while I drive. He has the tablets/iPads, phones, navigation systems and radio systems. I just get to do the driving. At 12 years old he is now a capable navigator comfortable on remote rural back roads, dirt tracks, farm roads and worse. Not bad for a city boy. I trust him to know his stuff and I now consider him to be a strong partner with me in the UpLift flights. He understands zero pressure balloons, and like me has yet to fly one, but I have no doubt that he will have the skill to make it happen when the time comes. The picture above shows Jason launching our first balloon and payload from Rankins Springs, NSW.

Radio telemetry and control

At age 9, Jason went and passed his Foundation Amateur Radio License test. He went to a course at Waverley Amateur Radio Club and passed his exam. The rest of the group studying were adults and some had to come back to try again and I am happy to say that they eventually passed. Jason now has his own HF radio at home and is learning advanced electronics. He has test equipment such as a spectrum analyser, oscilloscope, laboratory power supplies and a large number of radio systems to play with. He will be getting his advanced license soon enough. Until then he has to operate under the license of an advanced operator by his side. None the less he is capable of the work of building interfaces and items essential to his project.

Supersonic flight

Well, not many people have that experience and most UAVs are subsonic. There would only be a handful of people in the world that would have controlled a supersonic UAV. Jason will practice on simulations and some powered models to understand the responsiveness of the craft. He will get that experience before the event.

Autonomous landing

Salt Lake_1_main

We have a great sponsor – soon to be announced that will assist in educating Jason and me about their system. We may land on a salt lake marked with vegetable dye and Jason may take over the landing at the last minute. There is a lot to understand about the accuracy of autonomous landings, but autonomous flight will be simple. Why have autonomous flight. Simple, the site at which Jason breaks the sound barrier may be a long way from the landing site and he will have to travel there by car. He will place it in autonomous mode and then go to the landing site. The landing site might be a long way away as the Jet Stream can produce strong winds. Our balloons have experienced winds up to 230kph. Why take over the landing? It is simply the error that may exist in the GPS of altitude. If it is not accurate enough, Jason may have to intervene to ensure that it does not flare out will it is 10m above the ground or worse still 10m below the ground – that would make a big crunch after a magnificent flight. We will have to discuss native rights to the salt lakes and ensure that we are not stepping on indigenous toes with all of this. There are many aspects to consider, including ensuring we are not in trunk airline routes. Why a salt lake? Well, it may be easier than finding an airfield away from any population and it is flat all around. If you go off the runway, then it is still flat!

A quick Summary of the Project and Jason:

I had to recently summarise the project and Jason

Jason overheard me, his father, talking about the testing phases of a winged re-entry vehicle that we are building and the three testing phases: Transition to subsonic flight, return from space, de-orbit and land. He effectively “hijacked” the transonic testing phase. He proposed a zero pressure balloon to take the aircraft (code named ThunderStruck) to over 40km altitude and release it. He will pilot it remotely by radio control with a TV camera in the cockpit and instruments overlaid on the screen. He will “see” the view from the cockpit by wearing video googles as if he is there. Thunderstruck will reach speed of around 2,000kph before landing using nothing more than gravity. He has to demonstrate control at all phases of the flight.

Preparing for the Flight of ThunderStruck

Weather balloon burst

What a burst weather balloon should do! Disintegrate

ThunderStruck – Backup Preparations

Jason, our 12 year old pilot is no stranger to having to prepare for the worst and it is what we do every time we send up a payload. Our last flight of a balloon into the stratosphere was a case of just that. Two failures. One on launch and the second on decent. Each problem would be enough to cause most balloon payloads to be lost, but as part of our preparations, we carried two trackers for the one flight. This was a flight in preparation for our project and we are testing. We have had to cover our payload in the video. Our apologies.

Below: An artist’s view of the ThunderStruck aircraft under a zero pressure balloon (more on that another time) at 40km altitude. You may have guessed, I am the artist….. Note that on the ThunderStruck event, we will not be using weather balloons so there will be no unexpected explosions.

Balloon Flight with ThunderStruck

Failure One

The first failure was totally invisible to us. A massive downdraft. The first that we have ever encountered. Uplift-1, our first flight, started in an updraft and it rose at an incredible rate for the first kilometre. In the video below, you can hear me make the comment that there did not appear to be the lift that we knew we had because we had used scales to measure the lift. We could not feel the downdraft pushing the balloon down 15 metres above our heads. I mistakenly thought my lack of “feel” was because of the others also holding the payload. We released the payload and balloon and then our hopes sank as the payload only lifted slowly and then sank back to the ground. We ran to catch it, but it rose again and caught on the edge of the eve of the roof of a nearby wheat silo. It stayed there for only 2 minutes, but it felt like an eternity before it released. It rose quickly as calculated, but one tracker had had its GPS unit disconnected and the other had its antenna twisted 90 degrees effectively lowering the power considerably. None the less we could still track the flight – mostly.

One tracker disabled, but still sending its ID at full power, The other effectively made to look low power. Those GoPro cameras are great. hundred of metres above the ground you can hear (faintly) people talking and a dog barking! They make great gear.

Failure Two

The weather balloons are meant to explode and disintegrate. This one did not. The entire balloon, well over 1Kg fell into the parachute and tangled itself in the chute, effectively making the mass look like more like a tangled flag than a parachute. It slowed the payload in the thick air, but the fall from its maximum height was rapid and the entire fall from 30km only took 15 minutes. This was an average speed of 120kph. Given that the payload probably hit the ground at 30 to 40kph, the initial speed was probably close to 400kph in the thin upper air.

With the tracker only giving us effectively a poor signal, the last track that we received in one of the vehicles headed to the landing site was 2 km above the ground making the landing site potentially one square kilometre.  We also fond out later that the second tracker was never going to give us a signal, because the impact had caused a battery to eject from its holder. We only had one ID every 20 seconds and no GPS location! We used a directional antenna to lead us to the payload, but it was a slow and painful task.

The video below shows the impact and the wooden spars breaking. The camera continued to record! Nothing like a good wiring system to ensure that power kept flowing from the external battery. I did not mention that we use external batteries. The GoPro’s batteries, even with the additional power pack, just do not last for the entire flight if it goes over 2.5 hours and especially if it is taking both videos and stills – The new GoPros are amazing, but need more power for High Altitude Balloon (HAB) flights.

Initially the video above shows the incredible stability of our payload at 30km altitude. The Balloon explodes at the 30 second mark and then plummets and spins at a sickening rate of a  couple of times a second with the disabled chute causing the spin.  At 1 minute 45 seconds, we cut to an altitude of about 3km and it took 3 minutes to hit the ground at 60kph. At the 4:45 mark, the payload hits and spars shatter. The camera keeps recording. By the way, the big tree lined road is the Mid Western Highway. The payload was kind enough to land in a sheep paddock beside the main road. You can’t ask for better.

The Lesson

The lesson here is that if it can go wrong, it will go wrong. Yes, we have recovered every payload that we have sent up, but good preparations both in the payload design and build is important as are the preparations for recovery on the ground. We even carry poles to remove the payload from trees. We can manage 14 metre trees. After that we will have to look at other methods.

Our preparations will be backup, backup and more backup. Redundancy rules over weight considerations where possible. Systems will be over-engineered and more care will be taken than what appears necessary. Project ThunderStruck will fly while the world watches. Delays will be unacceptable. This was UpLift-20 and again we have 100% successful recovery rate. @0 flown and 20 recovered. As our flights become more aligned to the actual shape of the ThunderStruck aircraft, speeds will dramatically increase on decent and the videos will have way more interesting stuff to show, but these lessons were there to remind us not to get complacent.

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.

The View from 33.33Km Altitude

33.33Km and the Thin Blue Line

UpLift-19 Media and Information

Ever wonder what the view is like 1/3 the way to space. Here is our last high altitude Balloon flight to give you a look. Since it did carry sensors for Project ThunderStruck, it is a big thank you to Clintons Toyota of Campbelltown, NSW, Australia. The balloon was launched from Rankins Springs NSW and the payload weighed 1.5Kg and it was a 800 gram balloon

This is an unedited video and still video images from a GoPro3 Black edition camera of a weather balloon payload area. It climbs to 33.333Km where the balloon bursts and the payload free-falls back for recovery. It was a commercial flight fo Clintons Toyota, Campbelltown, NSW, Australia. They also sponsored a non-commercial payload for Project ThunderStruck – our first test for the Project for a supersonic glider to break Mach 1.5 (1,800kph / 1,120mph)

http://projectthunderstruck.org

The so-called Space Chicken, frame and with the parachute deployed, it reached a top speed of 400kph / 250mph. At the 12 minute 14 second mark on the video (2 hours into the flight) there is a noticeable jarring of the payload and a small pop. This is the balloon exploding. Immediately shredded balloon hits the payload as there is virtually no air to slow it. 2 seconds later, the payload tilts showing the cloud of shredded balloon About 1 minute into the free fall we reached 400kph according to the telemetry. The drag increases at lower altitudes, so the effect of the wind is worse as it descends. It then improves as the air density increases. In the seconds after release you get to glimpse the balloon shreds rocketing into the payload from the explosion and then the cloud of shredded material in the sky. About 10 seconds later there are glimpses of the blue and white parachute not doing much during the fall due to the low air resistance. The cutdown box that is placed above the parachute actually fouls the parachute slightly during the free fall before it becomes effective at slowing the payload. The fouled parachute causes spin at the faster speeds. The video finish with the payload still well above the clouds. This was UpLift-19 by Robert and Jason Brand for Clintons Toyota.

PS, notice that thin blue line in the video and the photos? That is all the atmosphere we have and that is pretty thin near the top. 72 percent of the atmosphere is below the common cruising altitude of commercial airliners (about 10,000 m or 32,800 ft)

Jason and Robert Brand setting up the cameras on UpLift-19

Jason and Robert Brand setting up the cameras on UpLift-19

 Balloon-Burst1-seconds-after-the-event-UpLift-19

Balloon-Burst1-seconds-after-the-event-UpLift-19. Those are the shreds of the balloon.

Balloon Burst3 seconds after the event Note the cloud is getting smaller as the thin air slows it faster. – UpLift-19

Balloon Burst3 seconds after the event Note the cloud is getting smaller as the thin air slows it faster. – UpLift-19

Balloon Burst4 seconds after the event - UpLift-19

Balloon Burst4 seconds after the event – UpLift-19 – yes, that is the sun

Balloon Burst5 seconds after the event - UpLift-19

Balloon Burst5 seconds after the event – UpLift-19

Balloon Burst6 with Parachute in view seconds after the event - UpLift-19

Balloon Burst6 with our blue and white Parachute in view seconds after the event – UpLift-19

Balloon Burst7-Effects of drag are clear after only 24 seconds - UpLift-19

Balloon Burst7-Effects of drag are clear after only 24 seconds – UpLift-19

Balloon Burst8 - Speed has slowed, but drag is greater in the thickening atmosphere - UpLift-19

Balloon Burst8 – Speed has slowed, but drag is greater in the thickening atmosphere – UpLift-19

Note: The images above are from the High Definition Video, not still images. The quality of our camera work has increased dramatically with some improvements to our methodology.