First jump test of Red Bull STRATOS - 3/17/2012
Roswell, New Mexico.- Finally the day has come. On March 15, 2012 the Austrian parachutist Felix Baumgartner, pilot of the Red Bull Stratos project started his way to beat the altitude record, jumping from a capsule hanging from a stratospheric balloon floating at 71.500 ft.
The test was acomplished after a troubled week that included a balloon burst on the first attempt of launch in March 13th and a last hour cancellation on the next day due to the presence of thick fog on the planned landing zone.
Below can be seen the video published by the project the next day of the test. It shows all the preparations, reveals several yet undisclosed details like the hich tech control room mounted by the project about 600 meters from the northern end of runway 17/35 of the Roswell Industrial Air Center, and through a very well produced footage, introduce the viewer to the key moments of this first test.
Well, no ALL key moments, as -for the disspaointment of many people but coherent with the marketing strategy of the project- at the very moment on which Felix leaves the capsule, the image passed to the cheering team on ground and the view of the parachutist back on earth.
The Stratos team choosed a wise incremental aproach on regard altitude, making two intermediate jumps before the big one, just like Kittinger did back in the 60's. This first test was conducted a few thousands feet over the so called "line of death" which in more scientific terms, is a boundary known as the Armstrong limit, or Armstrong's line, and correspond to an altitude of about 12 miles with an atmospheric pressure so low that water boils at the normal temperature of the human body. That is the absolute altitude beyond which humans could not survive in an unpressurized environment and high enough to make a first proof of the technology behind the effort.
After a slow climbing the balloon reached float altitude east of Roswell. Once there, Felix opened the hatch, displaced his chair and emerged from the capsule, stood in the rim for a while and saluting the cameras he dropped into the void.
According to the data obtained by the International Air Sports Federation (agency responsible for overseeing the development of the test to make the record breaking official) the exact altitude from which he jumped was 71.581 feet, the duration of the freefall phase was 3 minutes and 33 seconds and he attained a maximum speed of 364.4 miles per hour.
After recovering, Baumgartner declared that he experienced some troubles: "I could hardly move my hands. We're going to have to do some work on that aspect," he said. Also he was a bit confused by the longest fall: "I wanted to open the parachute after descending for a while but I noticed that I was still at an altitude of 50.000 ft". He finally opened it at 7.890 feet.
The team annonunced that the next step in the project would be to perform a mission to 90.000 ft, but there is no information available of when will be done.
As a final reflection, we must say that clearly the elements behind the success of this flight are a very well planned operation, an effort backed by a very profesional team, and a detailed and carefully studied plan. But all this would be rendered almost impossible to make without the big factor behind all this: money. As materialistic or inappropriate this may sound, the fact is that, for example, the loss of a balloon two days before the jump not affected the planned mission. Which was not the case in two ocassions with the French parachutist Michel Fournier whom was pursuing the same goal that the Stratos team, and suffered twice the cancellation of the flight by balloon-related failures. Probably if he would count with equal financial support than Baumgartner, the record now trying to beat would be his and not that of Kittinger.
And this reflection brings us to a question that these days is a very hot topic in aerospace forums: it is a scientific project, an athletic feat, or maybe both...?
Red Bull STRATOS capsule declared flight ready - 3/9/2012
Roswell, New Mexico.- A world apart from the old ballooning day's "just-sit-climb-and-jump" capsules, this week the Red Bull Stratos team published that the capsule that will be used by the Austrian parachutist Felix Baumgartner next summer to perform a jump from the stratosphere, is "mission ready".
The fine piece of state of the art tecnology, more resembling a little spaceship than a jump platform was designed and hand-constructed at Sage Cheshire Aerospace in Lancaster, California, by a team under supervision of Art Thompson, the mission's technical project director.
According to the press release issued by red Bull on March 5, the capsule (which took five years to develop and weighs 2,900 pounds fully loaded) will be the Baumgartner's life support system during the ascent. Strapped into a chair custom made for his space suit, during the estimated three hours of the climbing to 120.000 feet, he will face a control panel of 89 switches and one clear round door, that he will roll open at the moment of the jump. At right one of the images published, showing Baumgartner, Kittinger and the capsule.
Besides the life support function, once leveled off at jump altitude, the Apollo like craft will act as a stable base for his step-off into freefall.
The capsule is composed by four key components: the pressure sphere, the cage, the shell and the base with crush pads.
The pressure sphere, with a diameter of 6 feet, contains the flight control panel and instrumentation and is where Baumgartner will be seated during the ascent. It is molded from fiberglass and epoxy, while the door and windows are made of acrylic. The internal pressure will be the equivalent of 16.000 ft above sea level, to reduce the risk of decompression sickness during the ascent.
The cage that surrounds the pressure sphere supports the capsule overall. It was made by welding together chromium molybdenum tubes, frequently used in motorsports and aerospace industries. The cage frame is the point at which the capsule attaches to the balloon and will bear the load for the parachute system and capsule touchdown.
The external shell, 11 feet high and eight feet in diameter at its base, surrounds the pressure sphere and cage. It is a foam-insulated skin covered in fiberglass that provides protection and insulation against low temperatures.
Finally, all this is mounted over an eight-foot-diameter base comprised of a two-inch thick aluminum honeycomb panel which protects the capsule from sharp objects during landing and provides a mounting for the balloon system control box and batteries. Attached to the base are the landing crush pads, similar to those used in unmanned balloon missions to absorb the shock of the landing of the payload.
The capsule testing program included initial evaluations at Sage Cheshire Aerospace, followed by a 2011 altitude chamber test verifying the vessel's integrity in a real-time flight simulation to jump altitude. Following a final phase of egress training, Art Thompson confirmed that the capsule is ready to fly. Also, the Federal Aviation Administration, as occur with any device intended to fly in the U.S. airspace assigned an identifying number: N502FB
Althought it was not specifically mentioned in the web publication issued by Red Bull, we know for sure that the capsule was also tested in flight. In the Red Bull main site can be seen a very illustrative video of all the phases of the capsule design, construction and testing. Nearing the end of the filmation, can be seen the capsule hanging from a stratospheric balloon just released and starting to climb. At right you can see a capture of that very moment.
It is an image of one of the test that they made at Roswell last December...?