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Space jump getting closer

  • Red Bull Stratos mission to the edge of space
  • Felix Baumgartner will freefall from a helium balloon
  • Attempt to break the speed of sound

Red Bull Stratos is a mission to the edge of space. Sometime later this year, Pilot Felix Baumgartner will ascend to the stratosphere in a special capsule carried by a helium balloon.

From there, he will attempt to launch a freefall jump that would see him become the first person to break the speed of sound with the human body.

The data captured by this mission and its team of world-leading scientists promises new standards in aerospace safety, expanding the boundaries of human flight.

During the last week in May 2010, the Red Bull Stratos team conducted three important tests:

Felix Baumgartner in his helmet

Felix Baumgartner will attempt to break the speed of sound while freefalling from the edge of space

Capsule step-off

At Sage Cheshire Aerospace in Lancaster, California, the capsule dangled from a 40,000-tonne crane to simulate its suspension from the balloon flight train, with Baumgartner practicing his movements inside, exiting and stepping off.

The purpose was to determine how the vessel reacts to Baumgartner’s motion, and whether those reactions could compromise his descent. Even a relatively gentle tumble created by imprecise step-off could not only hinder Baumgartner’s ability to break the sound barrier but also suddenly devolve into a dangerously rapid “flat spin” once he encounters a level of increased air density.

Step-off technique bungee jumps

Next, the scene turned surreal as a group of pre-eminent aerospace experts and test pilots—including Joe Kittinger, who holds the records Baumgartner will try to break—gathered in a deserted Palmdale fairground to witness something they’d never seen during all their combined years of experience: a bungee jump in a pressurised space suit and helmet.

Felix Baumgartner on a test jump

Felix Baumgartner on a test jump from 26,000 feet

After multiple jumps from a crane basket suspended 200 feet above the ground, Baumgartner’s exit technique had evolved into something that one team member described as “perfect.”

High altitude skydives

The finale to the week of testing was a series of skydives over the desert in Perris, California, reaching approximately 26,000 feet. This test, conducted on May 27, 2010, was the first in a fully pressurised suit and was a follow-up to a similar day of flights in early spring.

Baumgartner had been frustrated by the awkwardness of his equipment, especially by the way his chest pack—a vital technology hub for the descent—jammed his helmet and inhibited movement on descent and blocked his vision while landing.

Objectives were to get a clean step-off from the rear-exit airplane; assess controllability and various body positions in the fully pressurised suit; experience suit deflation upon descent; and test a new chest pack system that allows one side to move out of Baumgartner’s line of sight so he can spot his landing.

Baumgartner’s technique and the improved equipment worked so harmoniously that the team was able to accomplish all objectives.

Adapted from information issued by Red Bull Stratos.