In early Feb 2022 we had a successful series
of flight tests in Newport Virginia and I thought it
would be useful to describe to the Board what was done, and also of our product
and services development.
At present, we have as products
Motes : Ballistic Penetrators intended for use on the
Moon, but also possibly for use on Earth. These include a flight computer,
batteries, various instruments, and Lora and 802.15.4 mesh communications
transceivers. The Motes have gone through a various series of flight and field tests and I regard them as between NASA TRL 4 and 6
depending on the particular use case.
The Motes were originally developed for the
AFRL "Lawn Darts" program. A recent variant is a Mote Sonde, which is
a Mote without the heavy nose cone and with a parachute. This variant was
successfully tested last week.
There is also a "Mote Deployer," to
launch the Motes off of a flying platform. This comes
in 1 tube and 4 tube versions, the 1 tube
version was successfully tested this week.
Pankos: The same instrumentation and electronics as
the Motes, but in a box, and intended for both "breadcrumb"
deployment on the lunar surface and also as a box
bolted on a lander or rover. In the latter case, the Pankos
would have a direct communications link to the lander or rover,
and would serve as a communications relay (a "Hive Hub" in the
Lawn Darts program).
At present, we have three clients for these
1.) - AFRL has requested that we carry the Masten "SkyMage"
navigation beacons on what we call the "Mojave Tests," in which the Masten Xodiak will launch, carry
our Mote penetrators and our Mote deployer to an altitude of ~500 meters,
whereupon they would deploy and carry the SkyMages to
This is a complicated deal where NASA FOP is
paying Masten to fly the Xodiak
and (through that contract) Masten would pay us for
The balloon flight test was a test
of the entire SII Mojave test package. The differences are
- we used a tethered balloon instead
of a Xodiak.
- we used a Mote sonde (with a parachute)
instead of a penetrator (with a heavy nose cap instead of a parachute).
With last week's tests, I regard us as mostly
TRL 8 for the Mojave test. We need to do another tethered test with an actual
We are building for a free flying balloon into
the stratosphere, which would begin our testing under lunar conditions.
(UPDATE: Summer 2022 – Masten
Space has filed bankruptcy, so the AFRL flight test is on hold for the foreseeable
2.) The Institute for Interstellar Studies -
US (I4IS-US) paid for last weeks' test. They want to do balloon tests
of the ChipSats they are developing at altitude,
including Sonde deployment to test mesh communications networks at altitude. We
would be providing flight tests as a service.
Last week's test was a fully successful test
of the capabilities they want, except not from a free flying balloon and
without any ChipSats, which are still under
development by a team at Drexel.
3.) Breakthrough Starshot.
We and I4IS-US have a contract with Breakthrough Starshot
for development of swarm spacecraft capabilities for future Laser Sailcraft flights. This would use the ChipSats
being developed by I4IS-US and hopefully soon to be tested by SII.
The top picture is Paul holding
the balloon just before release. The triangular array is the
instrumentation package, which has the go-pro camera, tracker
and flight computer on separate vertices, with a GoPro camera on the left,
behind Paul's arm, and the flight computer on the right vertex. The
tracker is on the vertex just above the camera. The deployer is the tube
hanging below the instrumentation package. The yellow parachute visible in the
other picture (and required by the FAA) is obscured here by the mount for the
tracker. The Lora receiver and antenna package on the instrumentation package
is in the middle of the far arm and is just visible behind and to the left of
the deployer. 802.15.4 was not tested on this flight.
The top picture actually
shows the back of the deployer - it is facing away from the camera. The
door is on the other side and is closed in this image (the Mote Sonde is still
inside the deployer at the time this was taken).
The second picture shows the entire assemblage
in flight. The wind eventually took the balloon down on the
ground and it popped - I believe on a fence. Other than that, all equipment was
recovered and can be reused.
We also did a separate ballistic test, and the
third picture shows a Mote penetrator embedded in the ground after a shot at ~
35 m/s. This is little slower to what we expect with the Xodiak
flight test - we have had faster shots in the past, but we were pressed for
time on the ballistic part of these tests and had to call it a day after this
We met almost all
of our test goals:
- launch of a tethered balloon.
- flight of tethered balloon with
instrumentation package and deployer.
- ejection of Mote Sonde from deployer by
remote control, including burn-through of the strap holding the deployer door
- mesh network between the balloon instrumentation
package and the Mote sonde.
- data flow from Sonde to balloon to
- operation of flight computer and other
computers in flight
- we successfully tracked our location with a
SPOT data tracker
- we acquired in flight video with the go-pro
The goal we didn't meet was an altitude of 100
meters with good lift. This configuration would thus not have been adequate for
a free flight into the stratosphere, and that needs to be addressed - we plan
to repeat this test with a larger balloon. Stratospheric flight is part of
our lunar and I4IS-US test program, although it is not that relevant for the Masten Mojave tests.