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The Capsule

The capsule operates as Felix's controlled climate all the way to 120,000 feet.

The capsule protects Felix Baumgartner from subzero temperatures in a pressurized environment with oxygen.


Aviation pioneer Felix Baumgartner and the Red Bull Stratos team have been preparing for years to break the record for highest-altitude jump, eclipsing a mark set more than 52 years ago by Col. Joe Kittinger. The capsule, which at about 1.315 kilograms/2900 pounds weighs a little bit more than a VW Beetle, was damaged in a hard landing following Baumgartner's 2nd test jump from a near-record altitude of 97,145 ft / 29,610 meters in July 2012.

On September 24, 2012 the repaired capsule underwent testing in an altitude chamber at Brooks City-Base in San Antonio, Texas. The capsule was exposed to the extreme conditions it will face in the unforgiving environs of the stratosphere. After passing all the tests, the capsule was sent back to Roswell. Since the final manned flight Oct. 14, 2012, the capsule is recognized as a technological marvel safely delivering Felix to 128,100 feet (39,045 meters).

A central goal of the Red Bull Stratos project is to collect valuable data for science that could ultimately improve the safety of space travel and enable high-altitude escapes from spacecraft.

The overall structure of the capsule, weighing around 2,900 pounds (1315 kg) fully loaded, can be described in four components:
· Pressure sphere
· Cage
· Shell
· Base and crush pads

The pressure sphere contains the capsule instrumentation and it's where Felix is positioned throughout the ascent.
· It is molded from fiberglass and epoxy painted with fireproof paint
· The door and windows are acrylic
· With a diameter of 6 feet, the pressure sphere's interior contains displays, instrument panels, cameras and a chair
· The sphere will be pressurized to 8 pounds per square inch (psi), the equivalent to 16,000 feet above sea level, which will significantly reduce the risk of decompression sickness during the ascent without requiring Felix to inflate his pressure suit.

The cage surrounds the pressure sphere and supports the capsule overall, made from welded Chrome-Moly (chromium molybdenum) aircraft tubing/pipes

· The strong steel alloy is frequently used in motorsports and aerospace industries
· The cage frame is the point where the capsule attaches to the balloon and it will also bear the load for the parachute system and capsule touchdown.

The shell surrounds the pressure sphere and cage and is the part of the capsule that is visible to the observer.
· The shell is a foam-insulated skin covered in fiberglass and paint, providing protection and insulation in the stratosphere, where temperatures near -70° F (-56.7 C)
· It is 11 feet high, while its base is 8 feet in diameter
· The broad, curved base provides a secure step platform on its edge and will help to keep the capsule stable during descent

The 8-foot-diameter capsule base is the broadest part of the vessel, providing protection in the form of the base panel and crush pads.
· The base comprises of a 2-inch-thick aluminum honeycomb sandwich panel which protects the capsule from sharp objects during landing and also provides a mounting area for the balloon system control box and other systems such as batteries (the power source for capsule systems and cameras)
· Outside the base are the crush pads, composed of cell-paper honeycomb covered by a fiberglass/epoxy fairing. The crush pads, designed to handle 8 Gs on impact, provide shock absorption for the capsule's parachute landing
· The crush pads are for one-time-only use and must be replaced after every flight
· Engineers performed more than 150 drop tests to develop the crush pads.


After Felix Baumgartner safely jumped and the Mission Control team determined that the balloon and capsule were over a suitable open area, Mission Control remotely triggered the release of the capsule from the balloon.

The capsule parachute, which had been incorporated in the 'flight train' between the capsule and the balloon, immediately deployed. 'Reefing' (restraining) fabric around the circumference of the parachute held it to 17 feet / 5 meters in diameter for the initial part of the descent, allowing it to fall quickly (about 2,000 feet  / 610 meters per minute). At an altitude of 20,000 feet 6.096 meters, the reefing was automatically released by a barometric sensor, allowing the canopy to expand to its full 100 feet / 30 meters in diameter so that the capsule would descend more slowly (estimated about 6 meters per second) with a minimum of swaying. Its descent took about 24 minutes.

The capsule's landing in a flat, open area just over 55 miles / 88 kilometers due east from the launch site was gentle - under 3 Gs - so soft that the impact displaced only about 30 percent of the crush pad material incorporated to absorb the force. The capsule softly rolled onto its back, with Baumgartner's door facing the sky.

According to design, as the capsule fell away from the balloon in the stratosphere, a cable tore a 'gore' (panel) from the balloon, releasing its (nontoxic) helium. The empty plastic envelope fell to earth, passing the capsule and landing about 15 minutes later about 7 miles / 11 kilometers west of the capsule.

A crew of twelve personnel were waiting to recover the equipment. Together they formed a convoy of five trucks and an all-terrain vehicle. Thanks to the flight path predictions of meteorologist Don Day, visual tracking via ground-based optical systems, and GPS trackers, the team was within 300 yards of the capsule when it landed.

The team believes they heard Baumgartner break the sound barrier as they waited for the equipment to descend. "We heard a sound like a sonic boom," said capsule crew chief Jon Wells. "A lot of us are from aerospace backgrounds and we looked at each other, practically in disbelief. We know that sound."

On arriving at the capsule, the team first shut off the liquid oxygen and liquid nitrogen systems. Wells took photos of the 'switchology' - the switch configuration of Baumgartner's instrumentation and the oxygen and nitrogen quantities and pressure, to document the exact configuration at landing.

Next, the crew shut down the capsule's system of 15 cameras and retrieved the camera data. Then the crew from Sage Cheshire Aerospace, which built the capsule, completed the final step by shutting down the rest of the systems and overall capsule power.

Next up was balloon retrieval. The crew drove the 7 miles / 11 kilometers to the balloon and managed to wrangle the unwieldy 40 acres of material weighing 3,708 pounds / 1682 kilograms into a large open truck within about 45 minutes.

Mission accomplished, the capsule and balloon crews arrived back at the Roswell launch site with the equipment at about 5:00 pm local time, seven and a half hours after Baumgartner's takeoff, and about 21 hours after most of the crew had arrived at the airfield to begin launch preparations the night before.

The capsule and the balloon envelope are being returned via ground to the mission's technical hub at Sage Cheshire Aerospace in Lancaster, California. While some of the camera data was downloaded immediately in Roswell, more will be extracted at FlightLine Films in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Temperature, pressure, and other data from the capsule recorders will be analyzed for months to come, and the information will be shared with the science community. The vessel itself will be saved for posterity.

"Joe Kittinger's gondola in 1960 was like a Model T - practical and very durable," Wells comments. "With very sophisticated, sensitive equipment and all the 'luxuries' of cutting-edge technology, our Red Bull Stratos capsule was more like a modern supercar. From every standpoint, including a technical one, it really did its job."