Here’s an update on the Red Bull Stratos project, where skydiver Felix Baumgartner will attempt to break the speed of sound during freefall. (Read our preview article). Baumgartner and the project’s aeronautic’s experts recently conducted the latest round of high-altitude test jumps and step-off procedure tests. Baumgartner himself reports feeling both satisfaction and apprehension while the team prepares to move into a new phase of testing.
During the last week in May 2010, the Red Bull Stratos team conducted three important tests. In the capsule step-off test, conducted at Sage Cheshire Aerospace in Lancaster, California, the capsule dangled from a 40,000-ton 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.
Next, 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 pressurized space suit and helmet. 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.”
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 pressurized 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 pressurized 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 quite well, so the team was able to accomplish all objectives.
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Source: Red Bull Stratos