A Flight to Mars – 2022

Mars - 2022Mars – 2022 CubeSat Mission

Here is the ThunderStruck proposal for a payload to Mars – 2022 for our Ion Engine Shakedown flight. This presentation was one on many 15 minute presentations at NSW University. Where all others focused on cubesat missions close to earth, this would be the first to Mars and presents a unique opportunity for Australian Space Research.

Given that most of the audience would not have a clue about ThunderStruck, I had to first explain the project and then the opportunity. Not much could be said about the Opportunity as we will be looking for cubesat builders to tell us what they can achieve closer to the date.

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2022 Mars Delta-V Requirements

Navigation – Earth to Mars Delta V

by Tim Blaxland – Introduction by Robert Brand

I have not yet introduced you to our Navigation chief Tim Blaxland and I will do that soon enough. Let us just say that he knows his stuff. When I was requested to make Mars the destination of the first shakedown flight of the ion engine equipped ThunderStruck craft in 2022, here was his initial response. This may go over a few heads, but it may be important for you to know that we have the ability to actually do the work required. What we don’t know about building and operating a spacecraft will be firmly supported by the right staff with the right experience and credentials – when the time comes. Until then, please understand that we are a capable team and soon to become a space sector company. I hope that you find this email interesting. I will post some orbital pictures when we have them ready for publication in a week or so..

The importance of this work was to ensure that 2022 provided a window of opportunity to leave for Mars. Here is Tim’s email:


These graphs show the arrival, departure and total delta-V requirements for Hohmann-type Earth-Mars transfers. Delta-V is displayed by colour, the horizontal axis is departure date (range Jan 2020 to Feb 2025) and the vertical axis is flight time (range 100 days to 500 days).

I know these aren’t what you were looking for, but they are relatively easy to produce and are moderately interesting. They are based on a simplified calculation method using instantaneous changes in velocity for Earth escape and Mars capture and do not consider things like ion engines which can be used to lower the departure and capture delta-Vs.

At least they give you a useful ballpark approximation of when the available launch windows are.

You’ll notice that there are two lobes to each patch. The lower lobe is the one typically used for conventional chemical rockets because they give a much lower flight time (7-9 months) without too much delta-V penalty. The associated transfer orbit does however have a relatively high eccentricity. They top lobes have longer transfer times but lower eccentricity and I believe they will give us greater opportunity to maximise the use of the ion engines but I need to do more research in this area.

Earth to Mars Delta V:

Arrival delta-V (the cross-hairs are on the minimum for 2022 – 29th July 2022 with a flight time of 321 days)

Arrival delta-V (the cross-hairs are on the minimum for 2022 – 29th July 2022 with a flight time of 321 days)

Departure delta-V (the cross-hairs are on the minimum for 2022 – 17th September 2022 with a flight time of 387 days)

Departure delta-V (the cross-hairs are on the minimum for 2022 – 17th September 2022 with a flight time of 387 days)

Total delta-V (the cross-hairs are on the minimum for 2022 – 28th August 2022 with a flight time of 347 days)

Total delta-V (the cross-hairs are on the minimum for 2022 – 28th August 2022 with a flight time of 347 days)

Tim will be giving me a better breakdown of the navigation profiles, but 2022 is such a long way and we may slip or gain over the years, so it will be little more than an exercise to ensure we understand the time taken with an ion engine and the problems that may arise. I look forward to more detail soon and I will share it with you.

Press Release 3 – Mars Mission

mars-atmospherePress Release – Mars Mission

Monday 9th Feb 2015

Release Date: IMMEDIATE

2022 Australian Mission to Mars

Sydney, NSW, Australia.

Project ThunderStruck is the brainchild of Australian aerospace entrepreneur Robert Brand. The spacecraft is in its design and testing phase and will be capable of taking many forms with its modular construction. The unmanned ThunderStruck craft is expected to go into commercial production in 2021 and embark on a shakedown flight to Mars in 2022. a new craft is assembled for each mission. The choice of rocket will be made closer to the date.

The Mars shakedown cruise will be a public demonstration of the vehicle’s systems and its ion engine for commercial spaceflight. The group expects ThunderStruck to fly away from earth, taking pictures of the moon and earth together and then on to Mars. The flight to Mars will take much longer than the flight of the Curiosity rover and other such craft as the ion engine only puts out continuous low level thrust. It will need to loop around Mars many times while it brakes before settling into a low orbit where it can deploy or conduct the experiments on board. This will take a couple of years to complete, but it will be the first private mission to Mars. The exact time it will take will be dependent on the final mass of the vehicle, the power of the launch vehicle, the power of the ion engine and the position of Mars relative to Earth.

The vehicle will use new technology, much of which will be developed in Australia. The cost of the new technology will be significantly lower than current government funded systems and a very inexpensive alternative to building your own components for your spacecraft as many of the features needed will already exist.

The Space Courier Service

Brand is not looking to sell the craft for others to use, but to provide a service to deliver payloads or return them to earth. In what has become know as a Triple Play, He wants his company to provide the vehicle, communications and the mission control for the flight, leaving the customer to simply look after their experiment or cargo once delivered. Where the concept of taking astronauts to the International Space Station has become known as the “Space Taxi” service Brand has called ThunderStruck the workhorse of the “Space Courier” service.

One possible use of the craft is for sample returns for the asteroid miners. ThunderStruck would rendezvous with the survey vehicle near an asteroid and provide an empty payload container and bring back 50Kg of samples in a full container. Depending on the chosen configuration, Thunderstruck will return the sample to Earth via a capsule and parachute or via a winged re-entry and landing on Earth. The ideal place to land will be in southern central Australia if it is a capsule and potentially a runway closer to civilisation if a winged vehicle. We are looking to the likes of Spaceport Australia to provide those facilities.

Other services could include taking small satellites to an area of space for release and then relaying the data back to earth. Taking an experiment to a site and being permanently part of the experiments  control system until end of life. Even the International Space Station (ISS) could have a version strapped to the outside and upon release it could land within a day with a crucial sample. With the winged version believed to be only 3m to 5m long, the crafts systems can be dormant for years and be made ready for flight at the flick of a switch. With a non-volatile/inert chemical thrust system, there is no danger to the space station being left on the outside.

One potential experiment for the Mars shakedown cruise is the release of many small cubesats, each with their own experiments. The ThunderStruck craft would remain close by and act as a communications relay to earth for the experiments. They are small with little room for high powered communications or the energy it requires. Remaining close by allows the high power transmitters aboard ThunderStruck to relay the data back to earth.

Depending on the remaining fuel for the ion engines following the Mars encounter, it may be possible to fly elsewhere in the solar system and do some rudimentary science or obit the sun taking observations. ThunderStruck will have a camera on board and may be able to conduct further observations and science for many years to come. Similarly to the long time it took to settle into a low Mars orbit, it will take a long time to climb out of a low Mars orbit. The thrust from an ion engine would do well to disturb a piece of paper on you desk. Its continued use in space slowly adds momentum as space is essential free of friction.

ThunderStruck is set to revolutionise the Australian space sector and provide an extensive number of space related job. There is currently little work here in Australia for space graduates from University. They tend to leave and go over. We expect to change that. The project should work as a catalyst for other stalled projects. After all, without an Australian launch vehicle, we will be headed overseas for all launches. A local capability will be an obvious benefit and an obvious business to establish.

A core team of people is being assembled and business arrangements are being considered, but the Project has reached a critical mass that will see it through to commercialisation.

Read more at: http://projectthunderstruck.com

PRESS CONTACT ONLY:   Robert Brand – contact@projectthunderstruck

Australia: 0448881101     Int’l:+61 448881101 – essential to leave a message if not answered.

Photos of Robert Brand on the Project ThunderStruck webpage are available for publication. Please do not use images of the craft as this is a supersonic phase 1 test vehicle and will NOT look like any of the final craft’s design UNLESS you label the images as such. Phase One testing is Scheduled for around July 2015 near Longreach in Queensland

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