Former Air Force Pararescue Jumper Nathanael Morrison shares some lessons learned from the Red Bull Stratos jump:
- Why did the balloon not level off but instead accelerate in the final phase? The lab coats will tell us more but Helium has the second most thermal conductive gas in the world so it may be that as the temperatures and solar radiation in the stratosphere increased the gas continued to expand while encountering exponentially less air resistance. That it critical to further high altitude research.
- We can easily achieve Mach 1 without any physiological or anatomical issues. What about Mach 2?
- We now know how to make space and pressure suits that withstand supersonic airspeeds without tearing from our bodies. This is caused when the air pressure exerted on the fabric exceeds the tensile strength of the threat and fabric. This information will be very helpful to the military aviation community.
- We have truckloads of up to date atmospheric data that will help weather and aviation agencies in numerous applications.
- We understand how giant balloons behave. We have never launched a balloon that large before. A lot can go wrong and we learned a lot about how to make new balloons to go even higher.
- I’m not a scientist but I know a number of them and they assure me that the sheer volume of information collected from the capsule and the suit is invaluable.
- Pressure suit. The advancement to the space and flight industries is huge. A suit manufactured for 121K performed perfectly at 128K. We can now make one for 150K or higher. Those suits can be worn by the pilots and crew of the next generation of reconnaissance aircraft.
- Capsule. With the basic design completed and fully tested, larger capsules can be built for a wide variety of purposes. The design features will be used in the next generation of air and spacecraft.
- Balloon. The balloon used is of the standard high altitude balloon design type. It’s just bigger. Now we know how the largest atmospheric balloon in the world behaves. That will help us make bigger ones to go higher, thus increasing our range and capability. There should also be some new research to make a stronger balloon because they are very fragile.
- Cameras. The cameras used were astonishing. We watched this event in HD from the edge of space! Cameras do not perform well in cold or high altitude environments. The ability to build a camera and high data compression broadcast system is amazing. Consider the fact that with NASA we get only a little very low quality footage and rarely live. When these experiments were first done the film was still on… well… film! The cameras on the ground we able to see 130K feet which is remarkable. That seems like a very nice surveillance system to me. A camera that can see 24km? WOW! And I haven’t even mentioned the optical tracking stuff that is years ahead of what the military has. Well, at least that we know about…
- Communications Systems. All we know is that they worked like a charm and took three years to develop. I would love to know more and the implications are obvious. I would love to know if it was a line of sight system of a SATCOM system or something else. I know of some technology that is in production that is just scary, but no word on this new system.
- Commercial tracking systems. The Stratos team used a wide array of compact and micro tracking equipment. They always knew the exact coordinates of Baumgartner and the capsule. They knew the altitude, wind speed, capsule speed, jumper speed, O2 saturation, air density, air pressure and so much more. The Stratos jump was one amazingly precise operation! That sort of micro tracking package can be used in an unlimited variety of applications world wide.
- Parachute. The parachute used was designed for tandem operations. It has a drogue chute, a main canopy and a reserve canopy. However, a normal tandem drogue is set over the main canopy low on the jumper’s back. This one was set over the shoulders. As a parachute instructor I am dying to learn more about this new system! It was built this way to further reduce the possibility of spinning out of control. For those of us in the parachute and aviation world, this is very exciting.
- Transcontinental personnel delivery. Imagine if you will a large capsule with a 4-man SOF team that goes aloft in Germany. At 135K the team exits in wing sleds and crosses the sea to land in Syria. That used to sound crazy to me. Not any more… I am quite sure that with a little work we could drop people from Main and reach Europe with little effort.
- Transcontinental aerial gliders. Building on the previous idea, imagine a large glider with 60+ men hoisted to that altitude for the same mission type. I have this vision of the Aliens movie and again, 2 weeks ago it seemed silly. Not anymore.
- Modern day floating bases. Could you have a floating missile base manned by 4 people at 100K? Seems plausible now… As do a very wide variety of defense and surveillance systems. It’s the same type of deterrent as a submarine to many lesser countries.
- That Star Trek stunt. You just saw the early development of that stunt and capability.
- Higher shuttle bail out altitude. Currently if there is a problem at a given point in flight the astronauts are supposed to chop the engines and glide down to 50,000 feet before attempting a bail out maneuver that has never been adequately tested and is assumed to not work anyway. Now that minimum bailout altitude can be pushed to 130-150K and use a better bail out system. (Yes, I am well aware that the shuttle program has recently been retired)
- Better astronaut/cosmonaut recovery and rescue capability. The current bail out and recovery procedures are a sham. No one expects to live through them. They have never even been realistically tested. This experiment proves that a conventional form of bail out is indeed possible and a reality. Astronauts can go into orbit knowing that at the very least they can cut the engines and get out anywhere below 150K.
- Better pressure suits for high altitude pilots. We are still using the old 1960’s suits. Pilots would love to get into something modern and rated for Mach 1.24!
- Better bail out methods for high altitude pilots. High altitude aircraft like the U2 use capsule ejection systems. Now the technology exists that makes a bail out at 70K an easy reality.
- Better safety for space tourism. It’s real. The technology has been proven. NASA is already contracting them. This will help them design better bail out and recovery procedures.
- A 150-200K jump. The ease with which the Stratos team pulled off 128K leads me to believe that a much higher jump is in the near future. A few equipment tweaks and we’re there!
- Transcontinental high altitude flight. The design of the Stratos capsule will be the number one design reference for the next generation of high altitude aircraft. The dreams of high altitude supersonic commercial flight just got a lot closer to reality.
- Spacecraft design. Commercial companies are subcontracted to build space hardware. As such, new revolutionary spacecraft designs will use the Stratos capsule for reference and inspiration.
- High altitude tourism. Why not? A lot of people would pay for that.
- Extreme Sports. The folks at Red Bull Stratos believe that a new extreme sport is right around the corner. They think 50K skydiving is going to become a reality. And why not. They already have the capability to do it easily. That sort of thing would drive some very extreme innovation.
- The open ended unknown. The original jump was a part of the space program and led to the current space suit designs. That type of research has given us so many things from Velcro to Post-it notes, to tang and thousands more every day items. Who can say how many new everyday items were just created and tested?