back to article Oz father and son team plan suborbital spaceplane

An Australian father and son team is attempting to develop a radical low Earth orbit spaceplane ultimately intended as a "space courier service" to return payloads from aloft. High-altitude ballooning (HAB) vets Robert Brand and son Jason, 12, (pictured below after one of their balloon flights) are in the initial stages of " …

  1. JimmyPage
    Thumb Up

    All modern cars look the same ...

    interesting the design is strongly reminiscent of the space shuttle. Is that because that's what they started with, or that's what they ended up with ?

    Either way, big thumbs up on this one.

    1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Re: All modern cars look the same ...

      In what way does it look like the space shuttle? The space shuttle has a fuselage mounted on top of a wing. This has 2 wings mounted centrally about a fuselage. The wings in this case are symmetrical in section, whereas the shuttle wings are mainly flat underneath and convex on top. The wings on this have wingless, the shuttle does not. The shuttle has a low, blunt nose, whereas this has a central spike. The Shuttle has a tail fin, this does not.

      Would you also say that the latest Mercedes Formula 1 car looks the same as a Model-T Ford?

      1. RobertBrand

        Re: All modern cars look the same ...

        You are right and I posted my reply to the comment, so read it there.

    2. Annihilator

      Re: All modern cars look the same ...

      It's reminiscent because it's a delta wing (more akin to a compound/cropped combo than a cranked arrow). Delta wings have significant advantage at sub and supersonic speeds which is why pretty much all supersonic flight vehicles are of that sort of design. The space shuttle was ultimately (i.e. at the last phases of its missions) a supersonic flight vehicle, as is this.

      I'm surprised by the winglets instead of a fin though..

      1. RobertBrand

        Re: All modern cars look the same ...

        Adding to my last comment, a fin also makes the craft less symmetrical. The ensure that we have the lowest chance of pulling out of the dive accidentally, the craft will be as symmetrical as possible in any cross section. This is to achieve maximum ability to complete the experiment. If we pull out of the dive without a stable transition, the craft undoubtedly will be destroyed and we would not want that!

      2. RobertBrand

        Re: All modern cars look the same ...

        The winglets house the wheels for landing. They have the added benefit of lowering the turbulence off the ends of the wings too. We are building a 1/2 size flight model with a turbine engine to test the flight characteristics and may change the concept if it proves unstable in any way.

    3. RobertBrand

      Re: All modern cars look the same ...

      Hi, I am the father in the photo. Firstly, the transonic flight is not suborbital and simply it is a "go fast" experiment. The craft is designed in standard "Cranked" delta winged configuration. In subsonic flight it will deploy lifting canards to effectively move the centre of gravity forward and make the craft more flyable at low speeds. Delta winged craft are hopeless at subsonic speeds. All supersonic jets tend to have delta wings. Note that there is zero lift in the wings. They are flat top and bottom. Great for holding a supersonic dive because as we are not wanting to accidentally pull out of the dive due to too much lift on one side of the craft (top side usually). You will also note that on the space shuttle the wings are like a standard supersonic aircraft, but it does this by moving a mass of air in front of the nose. I wrote a story here that you can read: This is how the shuttle keeps the shock waves away from the wings with the use of a supersonic spike that would melt off during reentry. All winged craft have a blunt nose if they are de-orbiting. Our spacecraft design will be no different. Remember that this is a transonic flight and not a space flight.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Very interesting challenge

    The issues of operating an RC aircraft at such distances are surely not trivial, not to mention the material resistance, stress loads, navigation, etc. There's a chap in New Zealand called Bruce Simpson that could be helpful. He's also an inventor and RC tinkerer that is currently developing a "sense and avoid" system for aircraft and claims to have developed a cruise missile off standard parts sourced from eBay.

    1. RobertBrand

      Re: Very interesting challenge

      I have spoke with Bruce in the past. Thanks for the mention of his name and experience. We are very well connected globally. Yes, we will obey all the standard rules required by our civil aviation authority, we will also carry radar transponders in the balloon and the ThunderStruck craft and the craft will also carry ITAR rated GPS system to ensure that we can track at supersonic speeds. The event will occur out of national and international trunk air routes and be well advertised in the area. Yes, we can also build such craft, but we are busy building a real spacecraft. The Phase 1 tests are just to carry out an experiment about delaminating air flow over the wings in a very controlled and easy way, creating massive drag.

  3. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    What are the civilian applications?

    50kg payload, starting from 40km up (baloon), hmm... The military applications are fairly clear - there is bugger all 99% of 3rd world AA defences can do against that. Now what once again were the civilian ones?

    1. Simon Harris

      Re: What are the civilian applications?

      50kg - not far off the weight of a 12 year old boy!

    2. cray74

      Re: What are the civilian applications?

      "Now what once again were the civilian ones?"

      Sample return from the ISS?

    3. RobertBrand

      Re: What are the civilian applications?

      Without giving away my business plan to others, yes, an ISS craft capable of returning a sample to earth within a day is one we tagged, but the more interesting one is a fleet of these craft headed to the asteroid survey vehicles and returning with samples. Yes, we have access to an ion engine for this vehicle. Basically any payload returning to earth that needs a soft landing without the g force of a parachute landing. I expect that just bringing back a reusable spacecraft after leaving something "out there" is also of interest.

  4. Trollslayer
    Thumb Up

    It could work

    Some experience and there are clear objectives for that flight.

    Good luck.

  5. Captain TickTock


    Bundaberg Ginger Beer!

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge


      Described by one of the LOHAN chaps as "the drink of losers"...

      1. A K Stiles

        Re: Bundaberg

        But it makes a lovely Dark and Stormy when you add a double shot of dark rum!

        (I deny any resemblance to this icon !)

        1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

          Re: Re: Bundaberg

          That I might consider.

      2. Captain TickTock

        Re: Bundaberg

        "the drink of losers"...

        or 12 year old winners

        1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

          Re: Re: Bundaberg

          We sincerely hope so. Looking forward to seeing ThunderStruck take to the skies.

      3. RobertBrand

        Re: Bundaberg

        As I said, not Aussie fathers give their 12 year old sons beer to drink... Not all......

    2. RobertBrand

      Re: Mmmm

      Yes, Ginger Beer! I ask that the photo always carry the caption that it is ginger beer that we are drinking, but it missed in this article. maybe I should add the caption into the photo! Not all Aussie fathers give their 12 year olds beer to drink.

  6. PaulyV

    "Once upon a time...

    ...a junk man had a dream..."

    1. Eddy Ito

      Re: "Once upon a time...

      The name of his spaceship? Vulture.

      Coincidence? Yes, that's what a coincidence is.

  7. Anonymous Coward


    This poor lad of 12 his doomed! His father dared to turn him interested in science?? Everyone knows that football its the way to go!

    1. RobertBrand

      Re: Doomed

      Just so you know, Jason also plays football and I mean one of those round ones! You can have your science and eat it too....

  8. Simon Harris

    CAD Drawings.

    I don't see any provision for a playmonaut.

    He hasn't thought this through properly!

  9. hughca


    It's my understanding that anyone operating an RPA or Model Aircraft in Oz is required to be looking at it during it's entire flight?

    This is the main reason RC FPV flying is illegal here, which is unfortunate as it looks awesome!

    Perhaps they'll just ignore CASA, like most people operating RPA/Model Aircraft, or perhaps they'll launch and land from somewhere else? Or perhaps there's an exemption that I don't know about (wouldn't be surprised).

    1. Simon Harris

      Re: Legal?

      What if you fly two RPAs together, each fitted with a camera, so you can always be looking at one from the other?

      1. RobertBrand

        Re: Legal?

        If only that were possible... I like the way your mind works....

    2. RobertBrand

      Re: Legal?

      We are working with Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) for an exemption and area approval for this flight and to ensure that wer can do this we have to prepared risk mitigation and safety features as well as a complete plan for any eventuality. The exemption will take three months to get through CASA legal and we may still have to do more. We will not be flying as a UAV, but as a sporting model aviation event. We work with CASA all the time and are well known to CASA for our numerous high altitude balloon flights. These number 21 successful flights and recoveries with 19 in Oz and 2 in Croatia. The Croatian ones were hard as we had to avoid mountains, swamps, forests, borders and landmines. We managed to do that with 2 x 3kg balloons carrying almost 20 experiments (10 each). We also were asked to meet with the President of Croatia as these were the first high altitude balloon flights in the country (we do not know about any illegal ones!). Bottom line is that we are going to be legal.

      On another note, we cannot find any agency or regulation responsible for limiting the loudness of any sonic boom that we make. We will ensure it is not loud, but there will be at least one sonic boom that may be audible.

      1. hughca

        Re: Legal?

        Great, I'm glad to hear you'll be able to get an exemption, perhaps this experience with CASA will be an early step in other RC clubs being able to hold FPV events (legally).

        Thanks for taking the time to respond and best of luck with the project.

  10. RobertBrand

    Hi I am Robert Brand and just to be clear, this flight is a transonic test and my son hijacked the testing. He overheard me talking about the spacecraft and the concept testing and because he is very capable of launching High Altitude Balloon (HAB) missions and he flies RC aircraft, he wanted to do a lot of the planning and make the flight a reality. Given his capability, we thought long and hard. It lowers our credibility since we want to build a spacecraft, but once the first test is completed successfully, having a 13 year old at the controls (radio controls that is) will be world news that day. It is not often that a 13 year old creates sonic booms. Jason may or may not contribute to further testing as we get into the harder stuff. By the way, Jason got his HAM radio license at the age of 9 years old because he was so inspired by our first balloon flight when he was 9 years old. We regularly get our payloads to over 30 km and 1/3 the way to space. We also have expect the ThunderStruck balloon to reach 45Km, but so long as we get to 40Km we will get to be supersonic. If you want to know more about our general DIY space work and HAB ballooning:

    Our Project ThunderStruck site is:

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