CAIRO: For Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner, jumping from an altitude of 36,576 meters (120,000 feet) and breaking world records at Red Bull Stratos does not only take courage and skill, but also trust in advanced technology and extraordinary, state of the art equipment.
Starting from the launch operation, a scientific balloon — made of polyethylene film that is only 0.002 centimeters (0.0008 inches) thick — will take off with the gondola section suspended beneath it. As the balloon rises, the helium expands, filling the balloon until it reaches jump altitude in approximately two to three hours.
The largest of scientific balloons, made up of 180 gores (banana peel-shaped sections), this standard zero-pressure balloon is open to the atmosphere at the bottom to equalize internal balloon pressure with the atmosphere; this results in low weight and high strength, the ideal combination for a safe flight.
The size and shape of the balloon change throughout the trip to adapt to various pressure rates on different altitudes and to minimize tension on the balloon’s plastic film.
At launch, the balloon stands at approximately 145 meters (470 feet tall); as it rises to jump altitude, its height shrinks to 98 meters (320 feet) as it turns into a more round shape of an 80-meter (260-foot) diameter.
Attached to the balloon is a gondola section suspended beneath it; it contains a command and control system for the electronic control and cutaway systems as well as tracking systems attached to Baumgartner himself to constantly provide information during the flight.
Resembling Apollo capsules, the body of the gondola is made of fiberglass; the pressure sphere is encased in a chrome alloy steel load frame that connects to the parachute and balloon.
This assembly is covered with a foam-insulated skin to provide thermal insulation; protecting Baumgartner from being cold soaked during the ascent to jump altitude.
The gondola is equipped with a special retrieval system in case of emergencies consisting of secondary parachutes.
A special pressure suit was designed for Baumgartner; the exterior cover fabric is made from a flame resistant Nomex that will provide protection from flame and abrasion. Special synthetic materials, which are light and flexible, provide outstanding maneuverability and aerodynamic stability.
The suit is designed to protect Baumgartner’s blood from boiling at altitudes and very low temperatures (-70 ºC); it also supports him with oxygen and is equipped with a GPS transponder to broadcast his exact location to the ground crew.
Although the exact timing and location of the launch hasn’t been specified yet as it will depend on weather conditions; it is going to be within North America by mid-April.
After jumping from the target altitude, a drogue chute will be released to stabilize Baumgartner’s body at a constant angle while he freefalls at supersonic speed; while a ground crew will track his position during flight using GPS technology and an array of telescopes; aircraft will locate him on the ground.
The jump is expected to break the record for the highest and longest freefall. Baumgartner is also set to become the first human to reach supersonic speed.