Skydive from Space - Felix Baumgartner’s Suit

Edited by G.P. Thomas.

Topics Covered

Introduction
Full Pressure Suit
Pressure Helmet and Visor
Who Worked on The Suit?
Sources

Introduction

A skydive is a nerve-wracking experience at the best of times, but when it is done from space it takes on another level of danger entirely. Felix Baumgartner, an Austrian skydiver and BASE jumper, recently ascended to 120,000 feet in a space capsule that was supported beneath a stratospheric balloon to make a freefall jump. He fell down 23 miles to Earth at supersonic speeds before parachuting to the ground.

Baumgartner with the assistance from the Red Bull Stratos team became the first person to exceed the speed of sound reaching an estimated speed of 833.9 mph (1,342.8 km/h) jumping from the stratosphere.

Below is an incredible video showing Felix’s fall to earth in its entirety. The only way that this feat was achievable was thanks to an advanced suit, carefully designed down to the last detail. This article looks at the features and materials utilised to make this historic feat a reality.

Full Pressure Suit

Felix’s full-pressure suit and helmet acted as a ‘personal life support system’ and it was modeled on suits worn by high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft pilots, but was custom-made to suit his measurements and upgraded with the latest technology. The total weight of the gear is a hefty 70 pounds.

The pressurized suit was designed to protect him from all major predictable hazards, the most important of which are listed below:

  • Sub-zero temperatures (+100 to -90°F)
  • Decompression sickness (by pressurizing the suit to 3.5 pounds per inch2)
  • Ebullism (by maintaining pressure around his body to prevent tissues from turning to gas and expanding dangerously)
  • Fire

The Red Bull Stratos suit consists of four layers made of two advanced materials: breathable Gore-Tex and heat-and-flame-resistant Nomex.

Details about the four layers are provided below:

  • Internal layer (also known as comfort liner)
  • Membrane to help maintain air pressure
  • Mesh layer to help maintain shape of the suit
  • External layer made of Nomex to protect against fire and extreme temperature.

The Red Bull Stratos suit also contains a controller, the size of a hockey puck. The controller automatically adjusts pressure according to the various altitudes. Another feature in the suit is the vent hose, which will provide warm or cool air. The warm air was required to prevent Baumgartner from being ‘cold soaked’ during ascent and the cool air will help to prevent perspiration that can cloud the visor. The full-pressure suit was attached to the helmet with a rotatable locking neck ring. Similarly, the gloves were also attached using a rotating and locking device. Mirrors were fitted in strategic locations to enhance his peripheral vision.

Overall, the suit was adapted to provide Baumgartner easy manoeuvrability to assist him when jumping out of the capsule. It also allowed him to assume the “delta” position during his free fall. The heart-stopping fall was captured by five cameras attached to his suit.

Pressure Helmet and Visor

The composite pressure helmet worn by Baumgartner weighed 8 pounds and was designed to be resistant to impact. The visor is distortion-free as visual cues are essential in the capsule as well as for orientation during Baumgartner’s descent and landing. It is provided with a retractable sunshade that can be adjusted by Baumgartner, and an integrated heating circuit to prevent clouding and icing. Opening of the visor accidentally by Baumgartner would have depressurized his suit, hence it was designed to open by using two separate coordinated movements.

Baumgartner was able to be in touch with Mission Control via a microphone and earphones provided in the helmet. There was an oxygen regulator fitted to the helmet to provide 100% oxygen from the capsule’s liquefied oxygen system during his ascent and from two gaseous oxygen tanks during his descent. To keep Baumgartner well hydrated, a drinking port was also present.

Who Worked on The Suit?

Felix Baumgartner’s suit was made by the David Clark Company, a company manufacturing flight suits for pilots and astronauts since World War II. The Red Bull Stratos team assembled a team consisting of some of the world's top minds in engineering, aerospace medicine, pressure suit development, capsule creation and balloon fabrication, to plan, design and execute the entire mission.

Sources

http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/shortcuts/2012/oct/15/felix-baumgartner-skydive-key-questions-answered

http://www.wired.com/playbook/2012/10/red-bull-stratos-space-suit/

http://www.redbullstratos.com/technology/pressure-suit-and-helmet/

G.P. Thomas

Written by

G.P. Thomas

Gary graduated from the University of Manchester with a first-class honours degree in Geochemistry and a Masters in Earth Sciences. After working in the Australian mining industry, Gary decided to hang up his geology boots and turn his hand to writing. When he isn't developing topical and informative content, Gary can usually be found playing his beloved guitar, or watching Aston Villa FC snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

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