22May2015

Project ThunderStruck- Making Space Flight Affordable

Building a Space Courier Service

We are headed to space and we expect to launch our spacecraft in the next 2 years. Its first space mission will be a Sounding flight (straight up and down) and in 5 years we will reach orbit.

Why cheaper? We are working on a reusable winged vehicle capable of de-orbiting and landing on a runway. It will be a mini-shuttle design capable of carrying a 50kg payload. Essentially it will be a space courier service. More on that later.

Our first flight will not be to space. We need to test some systems in the upper atmosphere of earth and we are talking about an altitude of nearly half the way to space. Space is generally agreed to be 100km altitude and we will be flying from 45Km. The atmosphere is very thin and we will need some big Zero Pressure Balloons to take us to there. This will be pioneering work. We will be testing a new braking systems for slowing very small supersonic craft. In fact this project is set to lower the cost of getting payloads to space – and back to earth!

Like the NASA X flights that preceded the building of the space shuttle, we have our own X craft. The X-1 was a desktop project that we used to test the limits and the result of that was the X-2. A few tweaks later and we have our final design. The X-2A.

Our video will answer a few questions. It is a screen capture, but it tells the story, It is An Australian TV interview for the project. It was recorded a couple of months ago. When watching please remember that my son will be firmly on the ground and that we are building a tiny unmanned spacecraft with a 50kg payload.

In the video please note that the final sequence of a spacecraft test flight is the Dream Chaser and not ThunderStruck. Ours is an unmanned craft with a 50kg payload! and much smaller, but the flight concepts are the same.

This project is both exciting and important on so many levels. The first flight paves the way for:

  • Lowering the cost of access to space
  • Improving launch turnaround times for Sounding flights
  • Soft landings at a fixed field (no searching for payloads).
  • Reuse of the spacecraft for Sounding flights
  • Reuse of systems and possibly airframes for orbital flights
  • A capsule version for a parachute landing is likely.
  • The X-2A will break world records for speed and much more.
  • It will pioneer a new aero-braking system.
  • Stable flight systems that will allow a 13 year old to fly the craft
  • Automated landing systems.

We have done our desktop work. It has created the final design through lots of mathematics and a lot of virtual wind tunnel testing using CAD 3D design. Below is a short video of the X-2 at a single instant at mach 1.5 showing the pressure waves at each slice if the craft. You will see a slight bounce of the shock wave of the wing bounce off the winglet. The leading point of the winglet has been moved back in the X-2A to avoid this problem. The tapered rear of the X-2A fuselage is how we have minimised Base Drag. Remember that this craft is a speed machine designed to accelerate and stay supersonic for test purposes.

The test flight is not cheap and some backup gear is needed. The costs for the project are listed below:

  • 2 x Zero pressure Balloons @ $15,000 each
  • 2 x radar transponders @ $5,000 each
  • GPS engine capable of recording past Mach 1.5 $8,000
  • Flight systems, video links and associated hardware $10,000
  • Logistics, cost of perks, helium, travel, accommodation, $30,000
  • Some funding is provided by our sponsors.

So Who are our Sponsors?

Defence Scientific & Technology Organisation (DSTO)

Our most important sponsor is the Australian Government. DSTO are backing the work that Jason is contributing to Project ThunderStruck. He is 13 years old and doing some great aerospace work. He has some seriously good knowledge of flight, aircraft design and the stratosphere. They are very interested in the project and its outcomes. They are an arm of the Australian Department of Defence looking at new technology.

Hobbyking Collaboration!

This is our most important supporter. They are not a sponsor, but together we will be doing some crazy experiments and projects and pushing their equipment and systems literally to the edge of space. We will use some of their systems in the X-2A supersonic craft and other projects such as videoing the world’s highest flying machines and much more.

Together we will be making projects that will inspire and excite. We want you, our everyday supporters to be entertained, educated and thinking up your own projects to enrich your life both for business and pleasure. They will be making Project ThunderStruck a reality and who knows, we may be using some hobbyking component in our first sounding flight spacecraft.

Hobbyking in space! Jason and Robert Brand have launched 23 balloons to the upper atmosphere and have maintained a 100% recovery record. This zero pressure balloon is way bigger and will lift more payload higher than ever before. Despite that, it we will have experienced people accompanying us to the launch site and giving us a hand. This will be one fantastic event and we are expecting streaming live TV from both the balloon and the nosecone of the aircraft in flight.

We will be using a wide vriety of HAM radio tracking, Spot 3 trackers and direct telemetry to keep updated on the balloons position and even the speed of the aircraft during flight.

Risks and challenges

We have solved most of the more difficult challenges. Primarily the design stage is complete and we are very happy with the outcome. According to those in the aircraft design industry, the ThunderStruck X-2A ticks all the boxes. Our own spreadsheets indicate that this craft is sleek enough to stay supersonic for about half a minute and will reach Mach1.5. The craft will be about 3m long and it will have a mass of 15kg.

The force on the nose cone will will be the biggest issue with it reaching about 35kg during the maximum deceleration due to thickening density of the air at lower altitudes. The craft will move to horizontal flight at about 13km altitude and it will slow to some hundreds of kilometers per hour. It will fly at about 200kph until it lands on a runway. A drogue chute will slow the craft and stop it from veering off the runway.Add to all of this, the amazing team that Jason has around him.

There are 10 advisers with everything from space experience, IT, Radio systems, 3D design, CAD, flight analysis, rocket systems and much more. I will be telling you about each of them in the regular updates.Even DSTO has offered us access to their test systems for our craft.

We can shake it, bake it and test how to make it! Even the radio systems are able to be tested inside a chamber that stops all outside radiation from being an issue.Even the massive zero pressure balloons will not be an issue. Jason and I (his father) launch weather balloons to the stratosphere all the time. We hold a record in that we have launched 23 flights and recovered all 23.

Two of them were in Croatia where we had to avoid the landmines still in a large part of the countryside.In all we have covered all foreseeable disasters and have enough expertise and support to overcome any others. We are excited to find other like minded people that may join our team, so let us know if you have some special skills.   Source: Robert Brand

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