Life After OTC

Robert Brand Part 4

by Robert Brand

So far I have not had anyone else telling me what they are up to after OTC so I will update you on some very new developments in my life. Yes, new in the last few weeks.

Life takes some pretty interesting turns and my headlong rush into the space sector only started 3 years ago as mentioned. We all had something to do with Space missions for NASA or ESA, whether you were in Accounts or Ops. It was what OTC did, but it was the terrestrial and satellite side. The OTC guys that came the closest to the space work I am talking about were the Telemetry, Tracking and Command (TT&C) guys at Carnarvon. It may have had a slightly different name, but essentially it was providing services to the space community to track, transfer data and control spacecraft.

Four months ago I attended Spacefest as a speaker talking about the advances in Do-It-Yourself Space activities that I was involved in. Nick Howes (with me in the top photo – right side), an astronomer from the UK sat in on my talk where I mentioned my activities with balloon missions around the world at over 100,000 ft. That is 30km and 1/3 the way to space. Yesterday I published a few pictures from a recent high altitude weather balloon flight and mentioned that it was for a Mars mission.

I am pleased to say that the Mars mission is “Median”, a UK based Mars project to sniff out biologically produced methane on Mars and there is probably about 8 years of work ahead to get this going and a lot of “go / no go” gates along the way. It is scheduled to ride on the back-shell of a future Mars Rover and be deployed after the Rover has left the back-shell. If you ever watched the video “7 Minutes of Terror”, that would be about 5 minutes into the landing sequence.

At that point a number of Median probes will be jettisoned from the back-shell and soft land on Mars. So what did I do to get involved. Well it seems that the UK team had the methane sensors and that is all they had. They lacked a soft landing system that would disperse the probes as they would only be 2km off the ground when ejected! They also lacked a radio system and they lacked a positioning system. It seems the academic people they asked did not have an answer and the game was almost over.

I am happy to say that I was able to provide a soft-landing system within the first hour and by evening I had the ideal radio system and even a positioning system based on sonar bouy “pings”.

The bid had to be in within 3 days and we were up against a massive deadline. 4 months have now passed and I am happy to say that the project has begun and finally been announced publicly about a week ago. The wonderful Jane MacArthur (above) is the mission lead and I am so happy to be involved in such an adventure. If anyone is interested, you can download the press release (UK English version) below yourself and read about a number of projects, but I have added the median story under the link below:

Stage one has funding and it is a test in Morocco at a Mars simulation site.


Methane detection by in-situ analysis with nano landers.

Image rights: Ron Miller

This experiment aims to demonstrate the feasibility of detecting and obtaining a positional reference location for a methane source using data from three small “nano-landers.” This will in turn demonstrate the possibility of using low cost landers to conduct surface science in association with a large-scale lander mission.

Our vision for a full-scale mission is to deploy 20 nano-landers from altitude on Mars after separation of the primary lander’s backshell. The landers would use balloon assisted landing to reach the surface, transmitting data back to the primary lander for uplink to an orbiter and then to Earth. The methane detection would assist in guiding the primary lander, conceived to be a rover, to potentially interesting methane hotspots. This matrix of triangulated smaller scale landers with integrated location and transmission systems should be able to map and precisely determine the location of a local methane “hotspot,” with the landing site initially chosen from wider scale methane emission readings already observed from the Mars orbiters.

Our three detectors will be placed in a simulated scaled down “drop” position in the Moroccan desert with a methane emitter and varied over the three-week simulation. We aim to determine the location of the emitter from analysing the 12-hour data readings stored on SD cards by the three arduino-based methane detectors in known locations. Heat and wind sensors will be utilised to determine weather effects on the detection process. Post phase data analysis will aim to demonstratethe viability of this method for
localising the approximate position of the methane source.

To see the image of the experiment (above) expanded, click on it once. Use the browser back function to return to the exOTC side.

The second announcement was mentioned in an earlier post as I have taken on the paid role of Director of Spacecraft Communications (and Navigation) for an attempt on the Google Lunar X Prize. To land a Rover on the moon and bring back High Definition TV video as it drives 500 metres. life is interesting to say the least!

3 thoughts on “Life After OTC

  1. Great story – I spent 8 fantasitc years at OTC the 80’s progressing from trainee techncian to TO2 at Doonside and lived on site for a while. Fun times and a great experience I will cherish forever. Keep the stories coming – great stuff

  2. I just love the multidisciplinary ability that OTC gave me. It was a place where if you could do something, they let you. Initially it was within your sector, but eventually it expanded to a very open attitude before it collapsed in on itself with deregulation. Well from my perspective it did, despite my rather bad experience at Broadway.

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