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Space Science

Largest Balloon Ever 30

bitpusherdotorg writes "The UK's Colin Prescot and Andy Elson are in the midst of preparations for their upcoming attempt at setting a new world balloon altitude record in July. The pilots will make their ascent in the largest helium balloon ever constructed, on an open flight deck (!) with nothing but a pair of tailor made Russian spacesuits to keep them breathing. Why pay 20 million for a shuttle when you can just balloon it?"
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Largest Balloon Ever

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  • parachute record (Score:3, Informative)

    by Lepruhkawn ( 199083 ) on Tuesday May 07, 2002 @10:30PM (#3482107) Homepage
    What I'd really like to see is one of these guys try and break Joe Kittinger's parachute jump record (102,500 feet). The film of him jumping off that balloon was wild.

    Official website link [qinetiq1.com]

  • ...it's a doozy...
  • by n-baxley ( 103975 ) <nate@baxleys. o r g> on Tuesday May 07, 2002 @10:50PM (#3482190) Homepage Journal
    Other than having balls enough to do it, or a lack of brains, are these "baloonauts" really doing anything? Could they just as easily place put a monkey on the baloon, or a corpse for that matter? Maybe I'm mistaken, but it seems that if anyone should get credit for the new record it should be the engineers. But, of course, we never get credit for anything.
  • Lets hope they equip these guys with a parachute... just incase.... POP!
    • Answers the question about why someone would pay $20 mill for a shuttle ride, no?

      Though I suppose you'd have a better chance parachuting from the balloon than you would from an exploding shuttle.
    • Re:parachute (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Mt._Honkey ( 514673 )
      Actually, that's not as easy as you make it sound. In order to survive such a jump, you first need a drogue chute that keeps you from spinning wildly out of control, and then a multi-stage main chute that opens a little bit at a time. This is because you would be going super-sonic at that altitude, and the shock of going into the lower atmosphere with a fully deployed parachute would snap you and the chute like so much fish. The guy who did the 102,000 ft. jump barely made it, if I remember it correctly. Didn't he have a problem with the drogue?
      • Re:parachute (Score:4, Informative)

        by hubie ( 108345 ) on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @02:10AM (#3482869)
        You are referring to Kittinger's 76,000 ft jump. He got tangled in his drogue (it wrapped around his neck) and passed out. An automatically deployed emergency chute saved his life. On his 102,000 ft jump he was in danger of losing his hand because his glove depressurized.

      • What about terminal velocity? If you came down to fairly pressurized regions in the 5k ft to 10k ft range, wouldn't you be going slow enough to use a normal shoot. Or at least use a drag shoot initially just to slow down slightly more and then use a normal shoot?
        • I'm not sure. I think that the air density increases extremely fast as you approach that area, and if you slam into a region of air where you normally go 150 mph going 550 mph, there's going to be a problem. I don't remember exactly what the problem was, but it was something akin to that. Your idea may work.
    • From the web site:
      If the gondola had to make an emergency descent, the envelope would be cut away and the platform would freefall at supersonic speed. The stability of the gondola at high speed is therefore critical. Emergency parachutes will be fitted to control the speed of the descent.
      Supersonic? Geeze, Six Flags [sixflags.com] has nothing on this! I guess you'd never know if the chutes didn't work.

  • by adminispheroid ( 554101 ) on Tuesday May 07, 2002 @11:45PM (#3482373)
    After claiming that it'll be the biggest balloon ever, they never give a size. Unless you count "400 times the size of a typical hot-air balloon and as tall as the Empire State Building; or seven times the height of Nelson's Column."

    40 million cubic foot balloons are the biggest common size used at the National Scientific Balloon Facility [nasa.gov] in the US, and I believe they're about 130 meters tall when they reach altitude. I don't know how that compares to Nelson's "Column," as they so delicately put it, but that's probably smaller than the Empire State Building.

    However, 40 km altitude is no record, the 40 millions can (and do) take a pretty hefty package to 43 km. I guess they're talking about a balloon carrying people. Why anybody would want to do that is beyond me.

    I guess this article would give the impression that ballooning is the realm of crazies and crackpots, but high altitude ballooning is a very handy technology. Much science that is done from satellites can be done from balloons for a tiny fraction of the cost.

    • by hubie ( 108345 )
      The 40 isn't the largest balloon out there, it is (just as you stated) the largest that is part of Raven's [ravenind.com] "off the shelf" stock. I think they used to make 52's, and I'm sure if you come with the proper amount of money, they can accomodate larger sizes. I'm not sure who makes these balloons overseas.

      The goal of 40km should not be a problem for these guys if they have a successful launch. I was part of a research team that launched a 2000 lb payload to over 42 km on a 40 Mcft balloon, so if these guys get a larger balloon than that, it should be that much easier. The manned balloon altitude record, by the way, is 113,740 ft set in 1961 from the Strato-Lab V platform by US Navy pilots Malcolm Ross and Vic Parther.

      An excellent history of setting the manned balloon altitude record can be found in David DeVorkin's Race to the Stratosphere [barnesandnoble.com] .

  • Looking at the photo acompanying the article something occured to me. The advertising on the suits what a great idea. I mean could you imagine if in the sixties you had the fore sight to have your corporate logo plastered on Neil Armstrongs arse. The most watched footage ever. I wonder if they will try something like that for a mars mission. NASA could probably fund the whole thing by having microsoft plastered on everything...but what am I talking about...any rocket with microsoft software would probably fail spectacularly. :)

  • by morcheeba ( 260908 ) on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @01:06AM (#3482685) Journal
    This sounds similar to this australian attempt: check this article [sciam.com] and this (better) [spacedaily.com] article.

    Summary: 2 guys in spacesuits taking a giant helium balloon to 40km. In the vacum of space, they'll descend at 1600-1800 kph (994-1118 mph), becoming the first man to break the sound barrier unaided (that's cool!). Plenty of video taken for marketing opportunities.

    The funny thing is that both of these ballons claim to be going to the "edge of space" at 40km, but the traditional definition (and the one used for the X-prize) is 100km. By that standard, I guess I have beach-front property!
  • Worst... Balloon... Ever!

I've finally learned what "upward compatible" means. It means we get to keep all our old mistakes. -- Dennie van Tassel