More insights on Red Bull Stratos project - 2/26/2010
Santa Monica, California.- On Febraury 23, the scientific team of the Red Bull Stratos project released additional information on the attempt to break several records by the Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner. The project made a worldwide presentation on past January (see our news section) and since remained silent on releasing more details of the ongoing effort.
The very complete press package now available at the Stratos website, includes a detailed account of the dangers that the Austrian will face jumping from 120.000 feet, pictures and video of the test in high altitude simulation chambers as well offers more insights on several aspects of the mission.
As occur on these enterprises, there are a lot of things still undisclosed, but the few ones that came to light with this news update, are interesting enough to deserve our own update.
The first revelation of importance is that the program is more complex than anticipated being as stated in the press release "a graduated, multi-stage test program". That means that besides the wind tunnels and low-pressure chambers tests being done by Baumgartner since last year, he will jump wearing his pressure suit from successively higher outdoor altitudes, allowing him and their analysts to assess the effect of the surrounding conditions -and his body's reactions- to make necessary adjustments for the main mission. If truly relevant data want to be obtained, this means that these jumps would be acomplished from altitudes nearing the one of the "big" jump. Altitudes only attainables by balloon. Taking account the balloon and helium price, this creates a dramatic increase in our initial guessing of project's costs.
On this regard Red Bull Stratos will be unique: no other pilot -outside a military program like Kittinger's EXCELSIOR- has had the chance to perform such an incremental approach. Even some of the balloon manned Air Force and Navy programs lacked of it: we would remember as an example the calculated risk took by meteorologist Bernard Gildenberg to launch MANHIGH II when a storm front was coming to the area of flight to avoid a possible program cancellation when the project was empty of funds for to sustain a longer campaign, or the almost heroic effort made by the MANHIGH III pilot Clifton McClure to repack his personal parachute inside the sealed capsule, with the balloon fully inflated overhead and no backup available, also to avoid a probable flight abort. Thus, the first lesson to be learn here is that in the particular field of the manned high altitude balloon flights big money, makes big differences. A difference between success and failure that often means a difference between the life and death.
Back to the press release, it was also disclosed what would be the life support of Baumgartner until reaching the top of the stratosphere: the capsule. Based on safety considerations -and again null money restrictions- the team has choosen a double approach: instead of making the jump from an open gondola, the pilot will be launched wearing the full pressure suit, inside a pressurized gondola as well allowing that any failure of one of the systems would not risk at once the pilot's life.
According to the information made public, the balloon is expected to climb during three hours, entering the stratosphere at approximately an hour into the ascent and once at a height of 120,000 feet, the pilot will depressurize the capsule and inflate his pressure suit. At left we can see an image (click to enlarge) of Baumgartner along with a team from Sage Cheshire the aerospace company in charge of the technical managment of the project and the builders of the capsule. The picture was taken during a pressure test held in past November outside the company's facility in Lancaster, California, 2 miles north of Palmdale regional airport and near the legendary Edwards AFB in the Mojave desert. The capsule's preparation will require at least one unmanned balloon mission to test it in flight, along with the parachutes, crush pads and all the associated rigging including the high resolution cameras to document the event. No known date and place were informed yet on it.
Finally, the press release extends around the dangers that Baumgartner will face. On regard these, and leting aside the known factors of both low pressure and temperature, the science team identified several issues: the tendency to spin uncontrollably (to the point of unconsciousness as almost fatally suffered Kittinger on the EXCELSIOR I jump) and sudden changes in air pressure and resulting instability in the "transonic" speed range. In regard this, is of particular concern the "shock-shock interaction", a condition in which shock waves collide and create a reaction not unlike an explosion's blast wave that sometimes in the past caused aircraft to go out of control or break up. The two proactive measures taken to lessen these factors are the "choreographed step-off" from the capsule to start the fall in an optimal position during the initial and less controlable portion of the mission and a "drogue parachute" developed and tested to stabilize the pilot -if necessary- even at supersonic speed.
For more detailed information, check out the websites at the links bellow.
A final thougt: merely a few weeks after Obama's announce of NASA's fund cuttings and the cancellation of the Moon return program would be wise to pay close attention to the Red Bull effort. Perhaps should not be surprising to find that in a not too distant future this will be the way to pursue space programs: multidisciplinary efforts by various companies partering with a common purpose, counting with a significant private funding as booster and a well timed and worldwide publicitary show around.
All pictures were kindly provided by Digital News Agency a UK based company that manages all the media and press for the project.
:: Red Bull Stratos official site
:: Red Bull Stratos page at Sage Cheshire web site
Seychelles: three balloons on the air - 2/22/2010
Mahe, Seychelles Islands.- Today was launched from the Airport of Mahe, in Seychelles Islands the third balloon of the technological campaign called "pre-Concordiasi". It carried a driftsonde payload, with dropsondes to be ejected by telecommand. The driftsonde system main goal is to obtain meteorological information on low explored zones. The balloon put airborne today have a payload similar to the one launched on Febraury 8 that kicked off the campaign (image at left).
Previously, over the weekend -exactly on Febraury 19- another balloon was launched, this time carrying a scientific payload devoted to study the ozone depletion and composed of two instruments: a particle counter built at the University of Wyoming, and an ozone sensor developed at the Laboratoire de Meteorologie Dynamique in France. This is the first time that these two instruments are launched together.
The path of the three balloons in flight can be followed in almost real-time using the "Google Earth" program. The instructions to do so are here. Nevertheless, if you don't have it, an static map of the path of each of the balloons, can be seen clicking here.
This information was kindly provided to us by Mr. Albert Herzog from the LMD.
Launch of superpressure balloons in Seychelles - 2/9/2010
Mahe, Seychelles Islands.- Yesterday started at the Airport of Mahe, in Seychelles Islands a technological campaign called "pre-Concordiasi" to launch three super-pressure balloons, two of them of the driftsonde type, with dropsondes to be launched on demand to obtain meteorological information. The objective of the campaign is to fly these balloons in the intertropical belt to provide useful information on the performance of the various components which later will be used during the full fledged Concordiasi campaign meant to launch 20 balloons, from Antarctica in next October.
The French team arrived at the island in January and after some weeks of preparations in a hangar located at the international airport, which is used as integration hall, yesterday Febraury 8, succeeded in perform the first flight. The balloon was released at 15:39 utc (19;39 local time) and currently is flying at 20 km of altitude in a somewhat erratic pattern around the islands as can be seen in this map.
Along with the technical systems onboard balloons to be launched, also will be tested for the first time the new Balloon Control Centre (image at left) built at CNES's Toulouse Space Centre in France to survey the developmenmt of long duration missions. Once a balloon is launched it is tracked initially by the ground station established at the launch site, but once the craft reaches a nominal height the control is handed over to Toulouse which establish a real time link with the balloon and his payload throught an Iridium based communication system. This allow the permanent monitoring of the mission, the reconfiguration in flight of the experiment and the retrieval by the scientific team of the data obtained in real time. The control center will be operational from October 2010 when the Concordiasi effort will kick off at McMurdo Station.
This technical campaign was originally planned for April 2009 but experimented difficulties in the final ground validation of the new systems, forcing to postpone the validation campaign, as well as the scientific campaign.
:: Concordiasi official site at MeteoFrance server
:: Pre-Concordiasi page at LMD web site