Well it's been a long and arduous journey to develop an APM/Pixhawk UAV Spaceplane but it looks like in 2015 there will finally be some interesting things to post about the project.

 We are nearing completion of the mobile mission control including the radio gear and the 9 display setup for flight monitoring and control as well as the tracking station.

 We are about to begin construction of an all aluminum version of the X11E which is a larger aircraft/spacecraft dubbed the X12A.

 Having completed the trials with the X11E and the flight simulations in X-Plane we are finally ready to begin the final phase building the actual craft.

 It took some time to acquire the proper equipment to construct the X12A but during the end of this year my machine shop has reached a point that I believe we can be successful constructing it.

 The TIG welder I just acquired was the final item needed to construct the craft. So you can look forward to some really interesting progress in 2015 on several fronts as we now have the proper tools for the job and with mission control coming to and end and the trials and simulations coming to and end things should get pretty interesting!

 I'll be posting progress right here as we go!

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Sounds good :)

Do you have any pics or additional material? I would be really interested to know more about it what you are doing.

Good Luck!

Tim

 Sure! here is the X11E that Chris flew at the beginning of trials.

Chris started the development several years ago now with the X10 which was a smaller version of the X11 series you can tell how many devastating crashes happened by the letter designation A being the first in a series.

 We started development of the ardupilot code with help from NTNS we shared experience with them as they shared experience with us.

Teammate John Baker made the first breakthrough in long range video.

To get further range at low cost we turned to NBTV (Narrow band TV) which is very similar to what NASA used for the Apollo moon landing. At 250 miles range getting FPV video is difficult to achieve without high power and increased weight and size Gary Milliard helped us develop software for the Raspberry Pi to transmit NBTV over the required range. The result is black and white only and the resolution is much lower but it is very flyable.

 We developed a "Q" impulse rocket booster to power the craft to space from a balloon (we have a 170,000cft zero pressure balloon that can carry this booster to 120-140,000ft

We developed along with Optictracker (a target tracking optical tracking software company) a system to optically track in addition to GPS tracking. This is intergrated into our antenna tracking array.

We also had to develop a "mission control" to handle the flight and telemetry and tracking for the mission.

These are older photo's soon I'll post some of the newer stuff but you need a little back story I think to get the scope of this project.

I'll post some more later. It would be quite difficult to give details of this entire project and I'd have to write a book to give all the important details of this adventure.

3DR has sponsored us from time to time over the years in fact before there was even a 3DR. Other Companies have help some as well. Like the guy's at Optictracker and Jetmanhuss at Vskylabs here's the model he made for us to develop the craft in X-Plane

There are a few other companies I will mention as we go along.

Here is that booster rocket motor.

Thanks!

Simply awesome!

Good to see people doing these kind of projects in a serious manner at a lower budget!

are you intending on achieving LEO eventually or just sounding?

Taking off from a Zero Pressure Balloon effectively, could definitely cut the cost exponentially per launch.

Have you looked at using a gimbaled exhaust nozzle for thrust vectoring? built correctly combined with a bunch more crashes :=), I can't see why something like this could not be designed to enter LEO

I have been wanting to get a project like this kicked off here in Australia, your stuff is inspiring to see, where are you located?

 There is a project by Robert Brand and his son Jason called Thunderstruck in Australia look them up they are in Sidney. Robert and I have been friends for a few years. 

 I'm in Lampasas, Texas but our launch site is Matagorda Peninsula, Texas we own part of that and Pierce field there is also part ours.

So our launch site is 5000+ Acres and we have a PVT airfield all our own :)

It was an Army base abandoned after WWII

 Actually I do have plans to orbit. But to achieve orbital velocity you need 17,500 MPH or 8km per second. For that I hope to acquire the services of a friend here in the states that owns a Mig 29 that can do a swoop maneuver to 100kft. The extra velocity of the fighter in combination with the high altitude is enough to make small orbital missions possible.  Using a small rocket dropped from the Mig.

 But that is way down the road from where we are today. If we can prove we can do sub-orbital we can I believe get the momentum we need to go orbital.

 This project is 8-years in the making this far. There is not much faith we can do any of this but I know we can. I've had very little success raising funds over the years maybe $20,000 the rest I have raised myself and I've done most of the work this far as well. A lot of people have come and spent a little time and helped out and moved on because this project is very complex. I will mention people that have helped the most as we get to their contributions.

 I spent the first few years working on legal issues BEFORE I stepped forward into this. It does keep changing as the FAA and airspace keeps evolving but so far there are no show stoppers. It's not easy to do but it is still doable. The DOD and the BATF are involved as well as the FCC and the DOT and people on the local and state levels.

 I am also working with FlightRadar24 on a system similar for a global satellite tracking network purely by amateurs. Soon after we are successful with mission control on a sub-orbital flight we will try to kick off the network and I'll be giving away systems similar to the flightradar24 stuff. (we hope)

 Oh we can go to space if we want you just have to really want too. Projects like Ardupilot and many others I will mention as we go do make this possible today. 

 It will soon be science fact rather than fiction.

 I've also got connections to a project at Cornell for chip sized spacecraft that uses the Lorentz force for propulsion and these tiny craft will travel to the moon and the planets some day and beyond. You can look that up too if you like.

 I'm doing all this in my backyard you know? LOL I've had so many people tell me I'm nuts for trying all this but you know what? I think it's worth the effort. I also know it can be done.

Keep watching!

Yeah orbit is a whole milestone of it's own compared with getting up to space, as you stated, I have spoken with people about the feasibility of low cost space exploration as well, you will always get those who won't see it, everything is a pipe-dream, until someone does it.

Civilian UAV's have come such a way in a small time. so too can affordable space become reality if enough people get behind it!

The issue I see with orbit from a balloon, off the cuff,  would be the amount of fuel that you would need to carry to accelerate fast enough, vs the size balloon to lift that fuel, obviously launching from a Mig is not something you would want to do forever, an unmanned equivalent though? maybe one day...

A recoverable orbital, would be another challenge to make cost effective too, needing to be of certain design as not to burn up on re-entry.    

Our air regulations for unmanned stuff here are fairly solid comparatively, it can work well sometimes though, because you know where you stand, there are not many "grey zones" left in it.

I would imagine launching something into orbit with a camera on it would bring a whole world of bureaucratic hurt though...

personally, I design high-end professional UAV's and payload systems / offer general consulting on UAV projects.

I do think unmanned space is a new frontier for this type of technology and it is getting closer to being able to be tapped, as always "crazy" people get first dibs :D

Well I do know know this if I don't do it there will be someone right on my ass that will :) Things are indeed moving faster and I believe they will move much faster still. Knowledge is being gained in leaps and bounds now and there won't be much left for the imagination if we don't progress faster still.

I would not be nearly this far along without the aid of the internet and others behind us will surely benefit greatly from what we do today. 

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