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The Test Flights

Felix Baumgartner exits capsule for freefall

Mission Tests Prove Survival in Death Zones

Multilevel testing proves out safety systems for the team and Felix Baumgartner.  

Before the Red Bull Stratos team could attempt the final flight of the mission, all operations and components were verified through these test flights:


2nd Manned Balloon Flight

With the success of his second stratospheric test jump, Felix Baumgartner completed the final milestone before attempting to fulfill his dream of becoming the first person to break the speed of sound in freefall.

Preliminary Statistics (pending verification by the Fédé ration Aéronautique Internationale):

- Launch date and location: 25 July 2012, Roswell, New Mexico, USA

- Baumgartner jumped from the capsule at an altitude of: 97,145.7 feet / 29,610 meters

- Baumgartner accelerated to a speed of 536.8 mph / 864 kmh

- He spent nearly 3 minutes, 48 seconds in freefall

- The pilot landed safely in the desert at 8:20 a.m. MDT, about 15 minutes by helicopter from the launch site

Significance of test: A jump from at least 90,000 feet / 27,432 meters has always been part of the Red Bull Stratos test plan, but the significance became even greater after the mission's test phase in March - which, while successful, encountered aberrations including an aborted launch due to balloon failure, lapses in radio transmission and thermal challenges in temperatures approaching -90 degrees Fahrenheit / -70 degrees Celsius. The latest successful test at an even higher altitude confirms that these issues have been resolved for Baumgartner's safety while also providing new data for the benefit of aerospace research.

Pending official data review and confirmation, the leap from 97,145.7 feet / 29,610 meters takes Baumgartner past Russia's Yevgeny Andreyev (83,523 feet / 25,458 meters) to make him only the second man to have successfully completed a jump from such an altitude. His planned freefall from 120,000 feet / 36,576 meters would finally break the record of 102,800 feet / 31,333 meters set 52 years ago by the only man who has jumped from a higher altitude, Baumgartner's mentor Joe Kittinger.

 

1st Manned Balloon Flight

The morning of March 15, 2012 Felix Baumgartner landed with his parachute in the New Mexico desert nearly 30 miles away from Roswell, wearing a spacesuit as he safely completed a journey towards the edge of space. Just 1 hour and 40 minutes earlier Felix lifted off from Roswell on board a space capsule attached to a 165-foot-high helium balloon that brought him to an altitude of 21,818 meters (71,581 feet).

This effort takes more than 100 expert personnel who have been building and creating one-of-a-kind technology, and sometimes coming together from across the world.

Data from the International Air Sports Federation (FAI) shows how the 1st manned test measured up. At the time this was considered the maximum vertical speed world record. Felix would later break his own record two more times.

  • Speed in freefall: 587 km per hour / 365 mph
  • Altitude reached: 71,581 feet / 21,818 meters
  • Parachute opened at: 8,210.6 ft / 2,502.6 meters
  • Freefall time: 3 minutes and 40 seconds
  • The fastest ascent rate of the capsule: 1,200 feet per minute (estimate)

The goal of this expedition towards the edge of space was to fly over the "Armstrong Line" and to do tests under real conditions for the first time. That is the area in aerospace where earthly boundaries and laws disappear. It's an inhospitable region for humans where liquids begin to vaporize and temperatures plunge to minus 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Humans could not survive in this zone without a pressurized suit to protect against the forces of depressurization and lack of oxygen. To get there, Felix first had to make it through another "death zone" closer to earth. During the first 1,000 feet of his ascent there would be no time to escape the capsule and open the parachute in the event of a malfunction.

During this first manned test the flight to the stratosphere and exit from the capsule went exactly as planned. Felix plunged back towards earth at a speed of nearly 365 miles per hour. He said later the most difficult part was the extreme cold he encountered. "I could hardly move my hands. We're going to have to do some work on that aspect," he said. The Austrian added that he also needs to work on getting accustomed to the extraordinary dimensions of space. "I wanted to open the parachute after descending for a while, but I noticed that I was still at an altitude of 50,000 feet," he said.

Even though it was only a test jump for his forthcoming leap from an altitude of nearly 23 miles, Baumgartner still managed to make it into the record books. He became only the third person to leap from that altitude and survive. The only people to successfully jump from greater heights were Russia's Eugene Andreev and American Joseph Kittinger, both of whom accomplished their feats in the 1960s. Kittinger, a living legend now 83 years old, is serving as a mentor for the Red Bull Stratos project and was heading Baumgartner's test flight from Mission Control in Roswell. Kittinger is on the team of nearly 100 top experts recruited from the fields of science, medicine and aerospace for the mission.

The test demonstrated that not only did the capsule system function exactly as planned, but the giant stratospheric balloon did as well, as balloon launch director Ed Coca confirmed. The delicate giant, which was inflated with helium in the early morning hours, was remotely deflated after Baumgartner's descent, exactly as planned. The space capsule, Felix's vehicle for the jump, was detached from the balloon with an explosive device, descended under a parachute and later landed undamaged in the desert.

"This test serves as the perfect motivation for the team for the next step," said Felix, flashing a wide smile after two previous attempts to launch earlier that week had to be scrubbed.

 

Unmanned Balloon Tests

Joe Kittinger knows high-altitude balloon launches, having witnessed more than 100 balloon flights, five of which were his own. The safety behind the Red Bull Stratos Mission is ensured through multi-stage testing. The first unmanned flight was conducted December 2011, and the second test followed in January 2012.

The idea behind an unmanned flight test is to check every piece of engineering without Felix in the capsule. The goals accomplished included varifying the parachute systems, monitoring the drop pod representing Felix in size and weight, and confirming the electroncs and camera systems from launch to landing.

All of the important data Felix wears during the manned tests, satellite tracking and electronics, was stored inside the drop pod. After the capsule and pod landed under parachute in New Mexico, the team used the data to determine Felix's potential freefall speed at various altitudes, detect any spinning tendencies, and confirm GPS tracking. 

The following list is a brief sample of the components checked during the unmanned tests.

1) Balloon launch systems, hardware, cutaway and crew (flight train)

2) Test and confirm the C3 systems (Command, Control and Communication; operating sequencers, tracking, recovery chute)

3) Test and verify GPS tracking and reefing procedures of the recovery and release mechanism

4) Data downlink and logging systems

• Drop pod to be released from capsule at altitude

• 3 GPS trackers/units independent form each other (1 on capsule, 2 on drop pod)

• Temperature sensors (together with temp sensors for use in calculating record verification)

• FAI tracker (for record verification)

• C3 systems in capsule from ATA

• T-slim unit to transmit GPS signal from the Pod (chest pack).

• Chest pack components (GPS, TM Data Logger, XYZ accelerometer)

• 3 Cameras on pod and 3 cameras on the capsule.

• Optical tracking (Flightline Films)

• RF signal testing for data downlink cross verified with the ATA system.

 

Altitude Chamber Test Go Altitude Chamber Test Go