ThunderStruck Progress.

Pajero Jan 2016

Pajero Tracking Vehicle Update

We are on the move after several delays. The proof is in the progress since our last post. We are now talking boosters from our balloon platform to get us to space and we are working on our technology. Balloon test flights are being planned for late January / early February

So lets look at what my son, Jason (13), and I have done and are doing about the tracking vehicle. We will have more, but we are planning on at least having our 4WD SUV ready for the trans-sonic test as soon as we get this approved by CASA – the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

So what do we need/have in our vehicle?

  • Efficient layout. Yes
  • All wiring behind the vehicle covers. Yes
  • All antennas and cables the optimum size with maximum gain. Yes
  • All antennas capable of folding down below the roof rack (security and access to underground parking). Yes
  • Access to multiple 6 x 12 volt accessory points Yes
  • USB charging at a minimum 2.1A capable on a port. (2 pairs – each pair with 2.1A capability) Yes
  • It does not attract attention in city mode with the antennas down. Yes
  • Multiple tracking systems
    • APRS transmitter. Yes
    • Mobile phone tracking (APRS compliant) Yes
    • Digipeater (APRS) Yes
    • iGate (APRS) (soon)
    • AvMap Geosat 6 APRS GPS Navigation system (soon)
    • UHF low power tracking Yes
    • Satellite Tracking Yes
    • Internet tracking Yes
  • Internet Access
    • High gain external antenna Yes
    • Wireless and wired access point / modem Yes
    • Must perform extremely well in marginal areas. Yes
    • VoIP phone service for marginal data areas where phones don’t work. Yes
  • Radio systems
    • Kenwood D710A dual band UHF/VHF with APRS Yes
    • Icom 7000 HF, VHF and UHF 100w AM / SSB / FM Yes
    • Icom CB and commercial FM Yes
    • Commercial UHF Digital DMR (soon)
  • 4WD drive – our Pajero vehicle including Air Conditioning Yes
  • Tow Bar Yes
  • Bull bar (soon)
  • Second Battery/solar charging Yes
  • Driver comfort and safety systems
    • Head Up Display Yes
    • High Resolution accident cameras front an Yesd rear with GPS and time stamping – separate recordings in Hi Res. Yes
    • Reversing camera Yes
    • Cruise Control, Anti lock brakes, air bags – Yes
    • Normal GPS Navigator Yes
    • AvMap Geosat 6 APRS GPS navigator with target tracking – visible for driver and navigator (soon)
    • Entertainment
      • Prerecorded on SD/USB/CD Yes
      • Bluetooth play – multiple sources Yes
      • Good AM and FM radio Yes
      • Multiple video capability when not driving Yes
    • Inside and outside temperature displays Yes
    • Current and voltage readouts main battery – current shunt for high power Yes
    • LED internal lighting Yes
    • LED side lights Yes
    • LED rear lighting (soon)
    • LED local lighting for High Beam Yes
    • High intensity LED spot lights Yes
    • Tire pressure and temperature sensors and alarms (wireless). Yes
    • 2nd battery – current and voltage readouts for solar charging Yes
  • Safety features
    • Tracking Yes
    • Good off-road tyres that are pretty quiet on the highway Yes
    • Accident cameras Yes
    • HF, VHF and UHF radios Yes
    • Multiple car batteries Yes
    • Solar charging from roof top solar panel Yes
    • Amber roof top safety beacon Yes
    • Under hood/bonnet loud-speaker (soon)
    • APRS GPS navigator with target tracking – visible for driver and navigator (soon)
  • General
    • 240V AC mains inverter Yes
    • 12 volt powered solid state Computer – for tracking, entertainment and other activities Yes
    • Phone holder and charger – with WiFi to the wireless access point Yes
    • 2 x 7″ android tablets mounted on the sun visors Yes
    • Rear mount for 10″ tablet for tracking, etc from the rear seat. Yes

Above all, we need an efficient layout of all essential equipment. We don’t want wires everywhere and we don’t want confusion with stuff all over the place. Logical and simple design that looks like it was meant to be there. Connectivity you can rely on.

Since this is all amateur at this stage and not commercial, we can use the Amateur Radio Packet Sydney called APRS. Wiki says: Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) is an amateur radio-based system for real time tactical digital communications of information of immediate value in the local area. In addition, all such data are ingested into the APRS Internet System (APRS-IS) and distributed globally for ubiquitous and immediate access.

We are working on a private VHF tracking system for our country and rural work. We will secure VHF channels from the Australian Communications and Media Authority and have our own relay system. That is another story for another day.

NovAtel OEM615

Below is the video of our progress to date on our tracking car and it is a formidable mix of technologies, but you will see the simple aspects of the APRS system in use – compass bearing and distance. We will have other tracking systems including a real time telemetry the flight using a missile grade GPS unit. That is the one pictured on the right. It has been kindly donated by NovAtel and its Melbourne, Australia based agent. More on that very soon. We will have integration with the Internet and hope to also have NovAtel integration with maps.

As for the APRS tracking, it will provide 20 second updated information for the balloon flight and a general idea of the first trans-sonic flight.

On the Internet, we will have a screen showing the speed during its flight overlaid on the video of the front facing camera. If full NovAtel integration is achieved, then maximum speed if we get over mach 1.5 will be displayed. Without this integration, we will only be able to display the speed from a regular high altitude GPS unit. The video display will then stop showing speed at Mach 1.5 and above. The balloon will also have live video and APRS tracking. So back to the tracking vehicle:

Let’s keep this update short and sweet. If you watch the progress video above, it will take 17 minutes! I hope you enjoy the hard work that we are currently doing.

Below is our console showing 2 of our radio systems and the radio video display that we will be using to access our solid State PC Great progress on keeping it well laid out.

Pajero 2016-01A


Below is our wireless keyboard and track-pad for our PC

Pajero 2016-01B

5 comments on “ThunderStruck Progress.

  1. If nothing else, your stubbornness and persistence are amazing and I firmly believe that your energy and enthusiasm could get you somewhere- not with project thunderstruck though. It is just that your DIY approach to reinventing a very old and very crude wheel is a waste of your time and energy.
    I really hope that the project as laid out on your website will deliever an adventurous ride for you and your son. I hope your son will continue his education and perhaps one day will become a space engineer. So all the best wishes to you and your family.

    • There are a few “untold” points here. There are some things that we are testing that are new and could be commercial. I have an NDA with the University of Sydney and they are aware of the testing reasons for the craft. You are right in general and from an outsider’s perspective, there seems very little reason to do some old work. Let me detail the situation in some bullet points:
      1. We have to prove ourselves every step of the way. Without proof, the funding is not there. People fund winners.
      2. We intend to break records to get media coverage – again very important for funding. It will also bring people out of the woodwork that are keen to assist. It will get TV rights for the launch sorted out.
      3. It is about to become a watershed case for CASA and the Australian government as CASA will soon realise that hey will have to oversee sharing the skies with returning spacecraft. At this point, the laws do not allow for this and although Hyabusa was allowed re-entry, it is illegal to drop an aircraft from a balloon, so testing of any sort of new spacecraft design is not catered for if it is too high for a helicopter. Mind you in this test case, the refusal was from a risk analysis done by Air Services Australia. – a bit like giving the fox the keys to the hen house.
      4. One test that we feel is essential is the testing of our proprietary landing system that will “judge” a lot of the flight parameters from the human (on the ground) pilot and decide whether to allow them. It will also judge landing systems for precision height estimates above the runway using visual queues from the video cameras under the fuselage.
      5. It is not clear, but I have a new “slippery” surface coating that may be able to be tested above Mach1. I am hopeful that it will be ready for the test flight. There are other ways to test it later if the timing is not right.

      Although my son and I am involved, we ahve a team of people with the “right Stuff” to build the various aspects of the spacecraft (not the trans-sonic test craft). The team will be fully introduced shortly, but we have our a team with individuals that look after the following:

      1. Rockets (commercial and built ourselves)
      2. Booster / rocket builder
      3. Space Navigation and Orbital and suborbital guy
      4. High Altitude Balloons and heavy payloads
      5. 3D Modelling and desktop simulations
      6. Graphic design
      7. Communications – Sounding, orbital and deep space
      8. aerospace design
      9. Navigation and atmospheric flight.

      The dept of defense is a sponsor for good reason. DSTO is there and supporting our first flight. I hope that this helps clear some fo the confusion for the flight.

  2. To give you some background on me, I am a guest lecturer at Sydney Uni and other universities around the world. I am in partnership starting in 2016 with Sydney uni on working with their students. I speak at space conferences all over the world and I have access to the CEOs of some of the world’s biggest space ventures. I worked on Apollo 11 comms in Sydney and supported NASA Apollo flights and Shuttle flights. I have an award from NASA for Support of STS-1 presented to me by Commander John Young. I have been involved in NASA and ESA deep space missions (Voyager and Giotto) stationed at the Parkes Radio Telescope. We are not lacking expertise in this venture. We know the problems and we know the goals – it is all about plotting a suitable path that makes it possible.

    In short I am probably more involved in the space sector than you previously thought and we are working to ensure that we tick all the right boxes along the way to make this a business that works adn does not suffer too many failures. Research and experienced people are a good starting point and getting the Australian Government on side is essential. I intend to take this all the way. Others have tried and have met with brick walls that they could not bridge. I am in an interesting position to make this a reality.

    By the way, at a recent meeting in the US when a friend gave a presentation to NASA, he mentioned my involvement and expected that no-one would have heard of me. 1/3 of those attending knew me, but had never heard of him. It is a fact that I am better known overseas than in Australia. I know almost all of the Apollo astronauts and was almost hired by Pete Conrad when he died in a motorbike accident many years ago – it was to work with their new space tracking company. That fell through with his untimely passing. We are trying to buy old satellite dishes for deep space work.

  3. Hey Robert, as a member of a Special Interest Group associated with the Bundaberg Amateur Radio Club, I would like to Thank You for your availability and assistance to our group. As something that started out as just a vague idea, we are now well on our way to launching our first High Altitude Balloon Experiment (HABE) to the edge of space, and transmitting its journey back to Earth. The only feeling I can compare it with, is when I was a young man with the same club in 1965. We home brewed all the radio and antenna equipment and participated in the OSCAR 3 (Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio) project. I can still feel the exhilaration of hearing that satellite beacon signal coming through the loudspeaker.
    Thank You also for gifting your passion forward to Jason, your son. That is exciting!

    • It is our pleasure to help with the project. Home brew is certainly always part of the art of Amateur Radio. Even with all the off the shelf gear, we find ourselves building additional components that work with the off the shelf gear to make “magic” happen. When you release a balloon to rise to 1/3 the way to space, track it and recover the payload, you are doing something very special and so cool. It is a fox hunt on steroids, because it matters to find the payload. We love our fun with High Altitude Balloons (HABs) and we are doing science or commercial work – usually both. It was so exciting to my son, that he got his radio license at age 9 and is about to go to a full call. Life is exciting when the sky is not the limit. Space is an even bigger playground, so you can imagine the thrills of reaching each milestone along ThunderStruck’s development path. Thanks for the “thumbs up”. Good luck with the HABE project and call me anytime for a chat.

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