SOURCE: Red Bull Stratos

Red Bull Stratos

February 23, 2010 10:37 ET

Red Bull Stratos Science Team Reveals How Felix Baumgartner Will Try to Achieve Supersonic Freefall -- and What They Hope to Learn

At 120,000 Feet Above Sea Level, Altitude Is Both Ally and Adversary

SANTA MONICA, CA--(Marketwire - February 23, 2010) - Today the Red Bull Stratos science team released the first new information available since Felix Baumgartner's mission to the edge of space was announced to the public on January 22, 2010. The detail offered provides deeper insight into how and why Baumgartner hopes to become the first person ever to "go supersonic" in freefall as he attempts a skydive from a stratospheric balloon.

Potential Hazards

The speed of sound varies according to altitude and temperature. The Red Bull Stratos science team estimates that -- after only about 35 seconds of freefall -- Baumgartner will break through the sound barrier and "catch up with" the speed of sound, which is likely to be about 690 miles per hour at the predicted altitude of 100,000 feet. Known hazards at such altitudes include temperatures well below zero; an environment with too little oxygen to sustain human life; the tendency to spin uncontrollably (to the point of unconsciousness or worse); and air pressure so low that without a pressure suit blood is said to "boil" with life-threatening vapor bubbles. Unpredictable factors compounding those dangers include sudden changes in air pressure and resulting instability in the "transonic" zone (speeds approaching supersonic velocity), which in the mid-twentieth century caused aircraft to go out of control or break up and resulted in the concept of a sound "barrier." Of particular interest is the "shock-shock interaction," a condition in which shock waves collide and create a reaction not unlike an explosion's blast wave.

"Our biggest concern is that we don't know how a human unencumbered by an aircraft is going to transition through this," says Dr. Jonathan Clark, the mission's Medical Director. "But it's also exactly what we're hoping to learn, for the benefit of future space flights."

Einar Enevoldson, who set eight world records during his own career as a research pilot and is now the Red Bull Stratos Mission Analyst and Safety Advisor, adds, "One of our primary goals is to determine a test and safety plan that will protect Felix Baumgartner from the effects of extreme pressures or temperatures, yet will result in a very valuable step toward predicting the character of these effects in potential future higher and faster jumps."

Mission Strategies to Achieve Supersonic Flight in Freefall

The Red Bull Stratos mission plan to achieve supersonic flight in freefall considers a wide range of factors, including "terminal velocity" (a concept familiar to skydivers at moderate altitudes), which can be explained in an elementary fashion as the speed at which the wind resistance on a jumper equals his or her weight, halting further acceleration. Jumping from an altitude of 120,000 feet, in very thin air (less than 1 percent of the density on the ground), the level of wind resistance on Baumgartner should be extremely small, and calculations indicate that if he can reduce drag by streamlining his body position, attaining the speed of sound is possible. Strategies to aid and protect him in the effort include:

--  Graduated, multi-stage test program: Besides working in wind tunnels
    and low-pressure chambers, Baumgartner will jump in his pressure suit
    from successively higher outdoor altitudes, allowing him and analysts
    on the mission team to assess the effect of the surrounding conditions
    -- and his body's reactions -- to make necessary adjustments.
--  Choreographed step-off: For the first 25 to 30 seconds of his flight,
    the thin air will offer Baumgartner so little resistance that he will
    not be able to adjust his position using air flow. This means he must
    "choreograph" his movements to step off the capsule in an optimal
    position, an endeavor complicated by his bulky full-pressure suit and
    by the fact that the capsule is not fixed rigidly to the balloon and
    thus can react to his motion. Part of Baumgartner's training is
    dedicated to honing this "choreography."
--  Full-pressure suit and helmet: Baumgartner's full-pressure ("space")
    suit and helmet are designed to provide oxygen, protection from the
    extreme cold, and also a certain amount of rigidity and support in the
    potentially difficult transonic zone as he approaches the speed of
    sound. This state-of-the-art gear incorporates added features to afford
    Baumgartner advantages -- hence protection -- never before available.
--  Drogue parachute: Although he may not need or use it, a special
    "drogue" parachute has been developed and tested for deployment even at
    the extreme of supersonic speed. This drogue chute will be available to
    stabilize Baumgartner if necessary to avert the potentially fatal
    tendency for falling objects to spin uncontrollably at high altitudes.

Clark comments, "What we're counting on is that, while the high altitude presents many challenges, the air will also be rarified, so shock waves won't have the same detrimental, concussive effect as they would down low. But ultimately, this mission is a test flight, so we'll know a lot more afterward than we'll know beforehand." He adds, "We expect the unexpected."

About Red Bull Stratos

Red Bull Stratos is a mission to the edge of space. Pilot Felix Baumgartner will ascend to the stratosphere in an attempt to launch a freefall jump that would see him become the first person to break the speed of sound with the human body. The data captured by this mission and its team of world-leading scientists promises new standards in aerospace safety, expanding the boundaries of human flight.

Global broadcaster the BBC will produce a special 90-minute documentary on the Red Bull Stratos mission, which will air exclusively in the US on the National Geographic Channel and be distributed globally to national broadcasters by BBC Worldwide.

Red Bull Stratos is proud to share this mission with the following partners:

Nokia

As the official global mobile partner, Nokia has developed the Red Bull Stratos application to monitor this groundbreaking project. Available exclusively through Ovi Store by Nokia, users can learn more about the mission's progress by reading articles and watching videos from the Red Bull Stratos team of experts. Nokia users can also follow the countdown, stream the final jump in real time and watch Felix Baumgartner's pulse race by monitoring his biometrical data before, during and after the jump. Once complete, the app will deliver unique content about the Red Bull Stratos mission direct to handset. For more information, please visit http://www.ovi.com.

Microsoft

Microsoft is the global media technology partner for Red Bull Stratos. Microsoft's Silverlight and IIS Smooth Streaming technology bring an interactive live experience in High Definition to web viewers worldwide. To learn more, visit http://www.microsoft.com/silverlight.

Riedel Communications

Riedel Communications -- renowned for its pioneering advanced fiber, intercom and radio technology - provides the entire communications solution for this outstanding project, integrating both wireless and wired digital intercom systems. Additionally, Riedel furnishes the fiber-based video and signal distribution as well as the wireless video links to the capsule's onboard cameras -- enabling stunning pictures to be delivered from the Red Bull Stratos capsule. Please visit http://www.riedel.net.

Sage Cheshire Aerospace, Inc.

Sage Cheshire Aerospace, Inc., offers the services of leading technical minds in research, advanced composite design, engineering and fabrication to find solutions for a full spectrum of aerospace needs. Sage Cheshire is designing, building and testing the Red Bull Stratos pressurized capsule -- further, the company coordinates other vital aspects of the mission, from creating computer fluid dynamics to selecting crews and interfacing with outside agencies. For more information: www.sagecheshire.com.

Notes to Editors

The Red Bull Stratos trailer can be viewed and shared at www.redbullstratos.com.

For hi-res images, B-roll, web videos and additional press materials throughout the project, please visit: www.redbullstratos.com/newsroom.

Red Bull Stratos content, as well as other Red Bull productions, can also be accessed at www.redbullcontentpool.com.