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Space Science

The Tech Behind Felix Baumgartner's Stratospheric Skydive 109

MrSeb writes "Felix Baumgartner has successfully completed his stratospheric skydive from 128,000 feet (39km), breaking a record that was set 52 years ago by Air Force Captain Joe Kittinger — that much we know. From the balloon, to the capsule, to the gear that Baumgartner wore during his 730 mph (1174 kph) free fall, the technology behind the scenes is impressive, and in some cases bleeding edge. ExtremeTech takes a deep dive into the tech that kept Baumgartner alive during the three-hour ascent and (much shorter) descent — and the tech that allowed us to watch every moment of the Red Bull Stratos mission live, as captured by no less than 15 digital cameras and numerous other scientific instruments."
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The Tech Behind Felix Baumgartner's Stratospheric Skydive

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  • Helium. (Score:1, Funny)

    by pmsr ( 560617 )

    So, that's where all that Helium is going...

  • by LinuxIsGarbage ( 1658307 ) on Sunday October 14, 2012 @07:27PM (#41652847)

    I initially thought this said "The tech fell behind". As in Youtube collapsing in the middle.

    • With all the tech and engineers that were mobilized, was it that difficult to prevent FB to spin during the free fall? According to the various documentaries released before the fall, the spin was the problem to be addressed (and that's the reason why he actually opened the parachute earlier - as he started to spin quickly).
      • Re:Tech Fell behind (Score:5, Informative)

        by rHBa ( 976986 ) on Sunday October 14, 2012 @11:02PM (#41654059)
        Did you read abou this on Fox News by any chance? You obviously didn't watch the actual footage.

        Felix stabilised the spin manually WELL before deploying his parachute.

        They had a drogue chute ready to help stabilise the spin if it was required but he didn't use it because it could have prevented him from reaching Mach speed.

        If he HAD deployed his main parachute while in an uncontrollable spin it is VERY UNLIKELY that it would have deployed properly, much more likely he would have remained in a spin, not so fast but with his body mass further away from the centre of rotation and hence still massive G forces.
      • Re:Tech Fell behind (Score:5, Interesting)

        by kaiser423 ( 828989 ) on Sunday October 14, 2012 @11:10PM (#41654097)
        Yes, it was. At those altitudes, the only thing to prevent spins would be a gas reaction system like satellites use. Aka, vent gas out of pressurized bottles to counter-act unwanted spin. Having those on his suit would have added a ton of weight, and precluded him wanting to do this in just a pressure suit. There's no air or anything to allow him to do it himself. That's why when he jumped, he tried to be as still as possible. Even while spinning, the idea was not to move or react. Just wait until you hit enough atmosphere that you can move your body to stabilize yourself with the drag. When he started tumbling, I was screaming for him to hit the atmosphere and be able to stabilize himself. Then he did, and once that happened I knew that he had it nailed.
        • by laejoh ( 648921 )
          Maybe he farted?
        • There's still some air up there - otherwise the balloon wouldn't be able to get there. There's not enough for a person to self-stabilize, but he had a chute that was set to go off automatically if he spun fast enough to be dangerous that would have been enough to stabilize him.
    • Shouldn't the tech fall at exactly the same speed ?

  • by mni12 ( 451821 ) on Sunday October 14, 2012 @07:48PM (#41652963) Homepage

    1. Figure out a cool project
    2. Find a sponsor
    3. Take one step to skydive from 128,000 ft
    4. Profit

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You would've been more impressed if it were funded with tax dollars?

      Crazy is as crazy does. And I'm not talking about a skydiver.

    • by r1348 ( 2567295 )

      Yes, and this is definitely why there's a line of people willing to skydive from 128,000ft. Easy money, right?

      • by plover ( 150551 )

        Oh, I suspect there'd be a long line of people willing to do this. But very few of them would have the means to do so, or the time or dedication required.

        The path into the history books isn't guaranteed to be paved with gold.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 15, 2012 @02:56AM (#41655129)

        When explaining his motives for joining Red Bull, Joe Kittinger explained that since 1960 he had been getting at least 1 phone call a month from some skydiver who wanted to beat his record and was asking for advice but when he explained to them the logistical challenges they faced they would quickly back off.

  • Shoot? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Fnord666 ( 889225 ) on Sunday October 14, 2012 @08:07PM (#41653053) Journal

    There is a fail-safe which could have deployed the main shoot if he had been moving at more than 115 feet (35 meters) per second at 2,000 feet (610 meters) or less altitude.

    You know, the parashoot. Idiots.

  • According to This article at USA Today [] he hit 833.9 mph
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by budgenator ( 254554 )

      Typo, somebodies finger hit the 8 instead of a 7

      • by udoschuermann ( 158146 ) on Sunday October 14, 2012 @10:53PM (#41653997) Homepage

        Indeed, during the press conference the following figures were stated at least twice:

        Exit altitude: 128100 ft (39045m) [record]
        Free fall time: 4m 20s
        Free fall distance: 119826 ft (36529m)
        Max velocity: 373 m/s (1342.8 km/h, 833.9 mph, Mach 1.24) [record]

        A third record would be the maximum distance of ascent with a human-occupied balloon, which may exceed the 39045m of exit altitude, as the balloon appeared to descend somewhat before Baumgartner exited. Actually, if the telemetry information displayed on the feed can be trusted then he reached at least 39068m (128177 ft) at the time that he was first sticking his feet out into the open.

        No matter the numbers, this is an impressive achievement!

    • BBC reported the same number []. If so, it's incredible. And even if it's 733.9, 'tis nothing to complain about.
  • Not the first (Score:5, Informative)

    by onyxruby ( 118189 ) <onyxruby@[ ] ['com' in gap]> on Sunday October 14, 2012 @08:19PM (#41653139)

    He was not the first to parachute faster [] than the speed of sound. He was the first to do so voluntarily. Of the first two people to do this, one of them died in the air. Not an easy feat.

  • by Grayhand ( 2610049 ) on Sunday October 14, 2012 @08:32PM (#41653223)
    The most essential pieces of equipment were a bottle of Jack Daniels and a blindfold.
  • "Hello Ground!" or "oh no, not again"

    I bet it was one of them though.

    • by plover ( 150551 )

      "Hello Ground!" or "oh no, not again"

      I bet it was one of them though.

      Initial camera footage of his passing a bowl of petunias was mysteriously erased.

  • The recording of this event, while impressive, missed one crucial bit of technology: a humidity meter.
    Now we'll never know if he was the first to make this jump without wetting his pants in the process.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The adults here call that a hygrometer.

  • what I'd like to know!? No doubt only available on some Red Bull(shite) pay-per-view site, pfft!

    Call me when someone jumps from the *true* edge of space, 100k+ (or better yet, from the upper Thermo/Exosphere 700+ kms! :).

  • After watching the fall, putting cocaine in Red Bull seems more practical than ever, even if the Germans beg to differ. []

    The standard Red Bull found in most US stores doesn't contain coca leaves, but the Swiss cola variety does, and it's mighty tasty -- very herbal and spicy.

    A friend just noted something as I typed the above: This was literally a small step for man, but a rather giant leap for ...a man. Buzz would be proud anyway.
    • by splatter ( 39844 )

      In Holland you can buy liqueur infused with coca leaves & other botanicals that while not cocaine will give you a nice speedy drunk feeling. No issues getting it into the US either.

  • by viking80 ( 697716 ) on Sunday October 14, 2012 @09:49PM (#41653671) Journal

    Hydrogen would have gotten him a lot higher as the molecular weight is only 1/2 of Helium. Also, it would not have wasted a precious finite resource for little gain.

    • ...molecular weight is only 1/4 of Helium... There, fixed that for you. And before we all reach for our tinfoil hats, here's why he didn't use hydrogen: []
    • by Zeussy ( 868062 ) on Sunday October 14, 2012 @11:52PM (#41654355) Homepage
      As both Helium and Hydrogen are much lighter than air, the difference in buoyancy between the 2 is only about 8% []
    • by ThatsMyNick ( 2004126 ) on Monday October 15, 2012 @02:26AM (#41654989)

      What makes you think they wanted to go any higher? They infact had to vent out helium, by opening valves, so that they dont go any higher than 128K ft.

      • Probably to keep the balloon from expanding too much, as well. The higher in altitude you go, the thinner the atmospheric pressure and the more the content expands.

        • Actually if you see the video, they talked specifically about the balloon capacity (you can also visually see the spare balloon capacity (as a side note, it was fun to see the balloon keep expanding slowly occupying spare capacity, if you get a chance you should really watch the complete video)). The balloon could have expanded much more. The commentary specifically talks about not going higher than 128K for the safety of the jump. I assume they had a range for him, in which he could jump, and 128K was the

    • For a balloon in air, the lifting power of hydrogen is only about 8.6% more than that of helium. Buoyancy depends on the difference in density between the gases inside and outside. The sea-level densities are:

      Air 1.2 kg/m^3
      Hydrogen 0.0899 kg/m^3
      Helium 0.178 kg/m^3

      So the density differences are 1.11 and 1.022 respectively.

      To put it in more concrete terms: If the lifting power of a gas were inversely proportional to its density, a vacuum bottle would lift infinite weight.

    • Hydrogen would have gotten him a lot higher as the molecular weight is only 1/2 of Helium. Also, it would not have wasted a precious finite resource for little gain.

      I had the same thought, but if WIkipedia is correct [] and I'm parsing the article correctly, the gain would've only been about 8% at sea level:

      Thus hydrogen's additional buoyancy compared to helium is: 1.202 / 1.113 = 1.080, or approximately 8.0%.

      Now, as the balloon gained altitude, that percentage difference would've increased until the surrounding atmosphere has the same density as helium, at which point hydrogen would give an extra boost. But by that point the amount of lift itself will have drastically diminished (though the expansion of the balloon compensates for some of that, yes?) so you're chasing smal

  • Another typo (Score:3, Informative)

    by occasional_dabbler ( 1735162 ) on Sunday October 14, 2012 @09:50PM (#41653685)
    Just to show I do occasionally RTFA... "...the speed of sound — approximately 690 meters per second..." Not unless the air up there is 911 deg C it aint.
  • by thoughtlover ( 83833 ) on Sunday October 14, 2012 @11:37PM (#41654287)
    Where was the helmet cam? I watched the event live from their site and thought that we'd see his perspective as he fell. Is there no tech available to do that? I find that surprising with seven years in the making. Did I miss something? Now that I'm thinking of it, it would have been much better if he jumped with a couple sharks sporting lasers --wearing live helmet cams, too.
    • by janek78 ( 861508 )

      The official site now has a video that includes some of the on-body camera shots, I am sure we will see many more of them as the footage is processed. I believe he had a couple cameras mounted on the suit, so don't worry.

    • Downlink technology for the bandwidth needed for HD over 39km transmission distances isn't that small or power-frugal . Remember he has to carry it all, and then land it as well.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    In 1960 we managed 102,800 feet, now we can do 128,000 feet. An improvement of 25%. That's with 50 years of progress and bleeding edge technology. How much did computers improve in the same amount of time?

    Do you see now why it makes no sense to compare the evolution of information processing technology to physical technology?

  • Anybody watch the video and agree with me that he seemed severely hypoxic in his reactions to messages from ground control?

    29 release seatbelt. ... no reaction

    From then on, he's quite unresponsive. "say Roger if... " he responds with "roger", but that could just be a response to the "say roger" and not the part after the "if"....

    • It could've been that FB simply couldn't hear ground control. As an Amateur Radio operator, I was appalled at the horrible quality of the comms they were using. They couldn't hear each other half the time, and even at the best of times the transmissions were garbled beyond readability.

      I think there was a point where he went to an in-suit radio (possibly before step 29), and comms went downhill fast.

  • Not as impressive as the actual jump but could not help feeling it was cool that I could do that.

  • this was the the top speed , still unverified however. watch the press conference stats. He went faster than 730 MPH.

You will never amount to much. -- Munich Schoolmaster, to Albert Einstein, age 10