Felix Baumgartner will perform a skydive from the edge of space. His full-pressure suit and helmet are his personal life support system. Once Felix jumps, this system will be his only protection until he reaches the safety of the lower atmosphere. Here are the facts about this extra-terrestrial garment.
Full-pressure space suits have never been qualified for the kind of controlled freefall that Red Bull Stratos BASE-jumper Felix Baumgartner must execute to return safely to earth. Proof that a full-pressure suit could provide protection from such a bailout will be valuable for aerospace safety researchers. This is one of the reasons the project might prove valuable to science. Check out the most essential facts about Felix’ space suit.
•The suit is designed to provide protection from temperatures of +38°C to -68°C.
•When pressurized to 3.5 pounds per square inch (roughly equivalent to the atmospheric pressure at 10,668 meters), the suit can help to avert symptoms of decompression sickness (the “bends”).
•Above about 18,900 meters, the liquid in Felix’s tissues could turn to gas and expand dangerously, a condition called ebullism, but the suit will maintain pressure around his body to prevent such expansion.
•Felix’s suit was modeled on suits worn by pilots of high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft. However it has been custom made to his measurements and modified with new enhancements.
•Skydivers need to be able to use body positions and visual cues, but an inflated pressure suit and its helmet limit range of motion and peripheral vision. With modifications, including mirrors and added mobility, the Red Bull Stratos suit may serve as the prototype for the next-generation full-pressure suit.
•The exterior of the suit is made of a material that is both fire retardant and an insulator against extreme cold.
•A “controller” is the “brain” of the suit. Only the size of a hockey puck, it’s an extremely reliable mechanism for maintaining pressure automatically at various altitudes.
•A vent hose fitting will keep the suit ventilated with warm or cool air in the capsule. During the long ascent, warm air will help to keep Felix from becoming dangerously “cold soaked,” while cool air can help to avert perspiration that can fog the visor.
•The suit attaches to the helmet with a rotating, locking neck ring, and the gloves use a similar rotating and locking device. These types of rings operate with ease under pressurized conditions.
Pressure Helmet and Visor:
•The helmet shell is molded from composite materials, which help to keep its weight low (about 3.6 kilograms), yet are strong and resistant to impact.
•The visor is distortion free in the critical vision area because visual cues are important both in the capsule and for orientation during descent and landing.
•The helmet’s oxygen regulator will provide Felix with 100 percent oxygen to breathe from various sources (a liquefied oxygen source on the ground before launch, from the capsule’s liquefied system when he’s onboard, and from a pair of high-pressure gaseous oxygen cylinders during the freefall descent).
•An independently operated sunshade is fitted over the visor so that Felix can adjust it to his needs.
•The visor has an integrated heating circuit to prevent fogging and icing.
•A number of redundant (backup) systems are incorporated into the helmet/visor. For example, the visor is equipped with a mechanism that requires two separate coordinated actions to unlock; this safeguard is designed to prevent accidental opening that would depressurize the suit.
•The helmet is equipped with a microphone and earphones for contact with Mission Control.
•The helmet drinking port will enable Felix to stay hydrated yet maintains a tight seal.
How many pressure suits have been made for the Red Bull Stratos mission?
One prototype and two production suits.
Who made the Red Bull Stratos full-pressure suit?
David Clark Company produced the suit. David Clark Company has pioneered air and space crew protective equipment design, development, test, evaluation and production since 1941, with products ranging from anti-G suits to space suits and ancillary equipment.
Additional information can be found at www.davidclark.com.
Who else is involved in fitting, testing and producing the Red Bull Stratos full-pressure suit?
Red Bull Stratos team members involved with the capsule, parachutes, cameras and communications collaborate closely to make sure that their systems interface optimally with the suit. Taking the lead in coordinating them is the Red Bull Stratos life support engineer, Mike Todd.
For almost 30 years, Mike worked in the High Altitude Life Support and Pressure Suit Division of Lockheed’s “Skunk Works,” and he also fitted pressure suits for Steve Fossett’s record-breaking Perlan glider project. Riedel Communications provides the flight communications radios that Felix wears, as well as those in the capsule.