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Space Diving
June 27, 2007 9:27 AM   Subscribe

Why yes, I WOULD like to ride a rocket into space, then jump out of it and free-float to an Earth re-entry. Columbia widower Jonathan Clark and X Prize launcher Rick Tumlinson want to redefine re-entry. Whether for fun or for survival, the two want to make it possible for you or me to survive the 150 mile, 18,000 MPH, 8.2G, 3,000°F fall back to Earth in the worlds first orbital life vest. [via]
posted by daHIFI (49 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Although I have never even been skydiving, I think a 60 mile fall in this sexy spacesuit would be AWESOME.

A sidenote I found interesting was the story of Bill Weaver, who survived a fall from 70,000+ feet when his Sr-71 Blackbird fell apart at Mach 3.1. Weaver was not ejected but merely separated from the vehicle and blacked out before he fell to Earth. His Reconnaissance System Officer was not so lucky and broke his neck as he was thrown from the vehicle. More info halftway down this list of Blackbird Losses
posted by daHIFI at 9:32 AM on June 27, 2007


bit more than a vest, innit?
posted by TechnoLustLuddite at 9:34 AM on June 27, 2007


Photo of Neil Armstrong in Orbital Necktie
posted by DU at 9:36 AM on June 27, 2007


Yah but I'm just comparing it to a safety device you would wear on a boat. Actually I think the analogy was made in the article as well.
posted by daHIFI at 9:37 AM on June 27, 2007


Go go gadget life vest!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:37 AM on June 27, 2007


This is how I would do it.
posted by Mr_Zero at 9:39 AM on June 27, 2007


..and i thought skydiving was an expensive sport!

maybe now we can finally put man on the moon...
posted by TechnoLustLuddite at 9:40 AM on June 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


just falling from altitude is not a problem. As long as you have a drogue and enough air, you'll probably be ok. Its coming out of orbit that'll do you in. Do you have a place to put 20-odd thousand miles an hour worth of kinetic energy? Wake me up when we have a de-orbit suit.
posted by OldReliable at 9:40 AM on June 27, 2007


Reliable read the last page of the article where it states that a heat shield would be necessary for de-orbit. In the meantime they should have any problems from 60 miles up, which would be a pretty bitchin free fall.
posted by daHIFI at 9:45 AM on June 27, 2007


also useful if al-quada comes crashing through your skyscraper window?
posted by quonsar at 9:45 AM on June 27, 2007


There's also scenario 3, which is the obvious military use. If you could land people safely from orbit, you could launch a space plane from the US, and drop a recon or assault team anywhere in the world virtually undetectably (assuming that you can at least somewhat accurately control where you fall...I wonder how they will go about doing that.)
posted by Sangermaine at 9:49 AM on June 27, 2007


I like how in the safety scenario, you land right near your waiting friends and family. Must be hard to hit the land site so accurately from orbit.
posted by SBMike at 9:54 AM on June 27, 2007


Awesome. This suit means that we are now one step closer to my JATO-HALO extreme sport.
posted by quin at 9:57 AM on June 27, 2007


Looks kind of Master Chief-y.
posted by grabbingsand at 9:57 AM on June 27, 2007


The shuttle manages it. Granted is has a half-dozen computers doing the grunt work, but with modern technology that could fit in a wristwatch.
posted by Skorgu at 9:58 AM on June 27, 2007


Dude, I think this must be what that guy had in Event Horizon, when he got launched into orbit around the planet then zoomed back to the exact location of the ship to kick Sam Neil's ass!
posted by papakwanz at 9:59 AM on June 27, 2007


Wait... 8.2 Gs? Isn't it actually 1G? Is there any reason why you'd be accelerating faster than 9.8 m/s^2?
posted by spiderskull at 9:59 AM on June 27, 2007


(Also, I'm pretty sure 8.2 will make you black out and cause nosebleeds and whatnot)
posted by spiderskull at 10:00 AM on June 27, 2007


And as long as we are going to talk about extremely long freefalls, we should probably mention Joe Kittinger's 100,000+ foot jump from a balloon.
posted by quin at 10:00 AM on June 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Also, if this ever becomes feasible, I forsee a semi-permanent USMC space station in LEO. Let's see, ISS has a period of ~90 minutes, and some cheap disposable re-orbit rockets you should be able to put boots on the ground in ~2 hrs, worst case. Neat.
posted by Skorgu at 10:01 AM on June 27, 2007


If you could land people safely from orbit, you could launch a space plane from the US, and drop a recon or assault team anywhere in the world virtually undetectably...

As documented in Starship Troopers. How virtually undetectable you'd actually be depends on whether the enemy has LEO-capable radar, though.
posted by DU at 10:02 AM on June 27, 2007


Baaaaaaaaaaaad Aaaaaaaaaaass
posted by craven_morhead at 10:13 AM on June 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


and drop a recon or assault team anywhere in the world virtually undetectably

Except for the ionization trail that re-entry would leave. That stands out on radar quite nicely. A sad example is this image of Columbia.

Note that in Starship Troopers, Heinlien goes into some detail about the chaff and countermeasures used during an assault landing. Otherwise, you'd have twelve very hot (making IR tracking easy) with long ionization trails (making radar tracking easy) targets in the sky above you.

Similarly, the SR-71 has a remarkably small radar cross section, give the era of the design, somewhere around the size of a buzzard. However, while the body was stealthy, the exhaust plume was so unstealthy that the National Weather Service had no trouble at all tracking where the Blackbirds were flying. This was with various things added to the fuel to limit the RCS of the exhaust plume.

Drag something through the sky fast enough, and it gets hot. Make the air hot enough, and you'll appear on radar. The only way to do this quietly is to carry enough fuel to null your orbital velocity before you enter the atmosphere. Good luck with that.
posted by eriko at 10:13 AM on June 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


from page 5:
"It is very likely, he thinks, that a suited human will survive the transonic shocks. His optimism is based in part on the second precedent he can name—one in which a person survived. In 1966 an SR-71 Blackbird broke up at 78,000 feet while traveling at Mach 3.18. The pilot, Bill Weaver, survived. He left the plane at three times the speed of sound but, because he was unconscious, he can’t describe any shock waves he might have experienced. He sustained no lasting damage."

maybe they should equip the suit with an alarm clock to wake you up after fainting because of the transonic shockwaves?
posted by kolophon at 10:19 AM on June 27, 2007


But I think it is a view like this: 1 | 2 that would make it worthwhile.
(pictures via Dark Roasted Blend: One Day in Space)
posted by kolophon at 10:33 AM on June 27, 2007


I can't believe that no one has mentioned Dark Star yet.
posted by octothorpe at 10:38 AM on June 27, 2007


Spiderskull,
The G's aren't from the falling, they're from the slowing down. The faster the brakes are applied, the higher the G-force. Free falling from 60 miles builds up a lot of speed before the atmosphere thickens up and slows you back down.
posted by Crash at 10:44 AM on June 27, 2007


I taught myself to survive a four-story fall wearing a spacesuit and a dead Englishman's socks. It's a textbook procedure, kid, right out of the pages of the hollowed out book where once I hid my face stuck in glasses.
Don’t lose your shoes over such a simple step as hitting ground, just remember to roll. Just remember to roll.
posted by nasreddin at 10:54 AM on June 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


in the safety scenario, you land right near your waiting friends and family

.. and drop snugly into their opened hotdog bun, because you'll be a crispy black sausage.
posted by CynicalKnight at 10:55 AM on June 27, 2007 [3 favorites]


Freefalling from space sounds like just about the most kickass thrill a human being could have. Interesting query regarding risk tolerance: what percentage chance of death or dismemberment would you take to try it? I might go in for 15% , maybe 20.
posted by kosem at 10:58 AM on June 27, 2007


You first.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:09 AM on June 27, 2007


Not the first orbital life vest. There were early concepts like the Douglas Paracone. And yeah, 100Km altitude tourist launches don't nearly reach orbital velocities, and don't suffer the same kind of heating or deceleration forces.
posted by rlk at 11:19 AM on June 27, 2007


Artist's Rendition (start at 1:13)
posted by uri at 11:30 AM on June 27, 2007


How long would it take to fall that far (free falling from 60 miles, assuming a speed that wouldn't kill you on impact)?
posted by misha at 11:58 AM on June 27, 2007


So, maybe I missed it somewhere, but how are they going to dissipate the heat buildup?
posted by Relay at 12:03 PM on June 27, 2007


heat?

oh.



never mind.
posted by quonsar at 12:17 PM on June 27, 2007


The heat buildup becomes more of an issue when you're coming into the atmosphere at orbital velocities. What they're talking about here is basically a ballistic trajectory.
posted by smoothvirus at 12:28 PM on June 27, 2007


I don’t know how useful this would be for the military without some way to offset low-g muscle loss. Not to mention whether the logistical costs would be worth it all or even the trouble for maintaining low profile insertions. Heinlein’s warfighting philosophy notwithstanding. Sometimes it’s just more efficient to bust through the front door. Not that this wouldn’t be balls-out cool.

But this is all academic. All you really have to do to not die in a fall is throw yourself at the ground and miss.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:30 PM on June 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Not the first orbital life vest.

More neat, ancient, space rescue concepts.

posted by Opposite George at 2:33 PM on June 27, 2007


John Scalzi has these in Old Man's War
posted by T.D. Strange at 3:09 PM on June 27, 2007


"the 150 mile, 18,000 MPH, 8.2G, 3,000°F fall back to Earth in the worlds first orbital life vest."

3,000°F smoothvirus?

That's more than a welding torch ...
posted by Relay at 3:40 PM on June 27, 2007


Do you have a place to put 20-odd thousand miles an hour worth of kinetic energy? Wake me up when we have a de-orbit suit.

Yeah, I was thinking the same thing when I saw the materials they were talking about. You ain't using any fucking fabric, I can tell you that. Maybe if they put you in a ceramic suit that couldn't move with a quartz faceplate a few inches thick, then you'd be alright. Hope your chute still works.

What they're talking about here is basically a ballistic trajectory.

Uh, ok, how long's that going to take? Because, you know, that could be a lot of air to carry around. And unless you're Rain Man, good luck calculating your drop zone to within a couple hundred miles. No problem, you always wanted to visit the Sudan, right? Just hope you're not over ocean, or that suit better serve as a flotation device. Don't forget the shark repellent.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:43 PM on June 27, 2007


"a ceramic suit that couldn't move with a quartz faceplate"

That wouldn't work either, what would you do at the joints (elbow, neck, etc.)?

Sure, you could put someone into what looks like a ceramic or henium coated coffin with a window, but that's not a suit.
posted by Relay at 8:50 PM on June 27, 2007


That wouldn't work either, what would you do at the joints (elbow, neck, etc.)?

Like I said, "a ceramic suit that couldn't move".

Sure, you could put someone into what looks like a ceramic or henium coated coffin with a window, but that's not a suit.

Fashions change, man.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:25 PM on June 27, 2007


The G's aren't from the falling, they're from the slowing down

D'oh! Of course. I knew I was being an idiot.
posted by spiderskull at 9:48 PM on June 27, 2007


Quin: Thanks for linking to that Kittinger thread, I missed it before and found it quite fascinating.
posted by samsara at 6:19 AM on June 28, 2007


Fashions change, man.

Little Lebowski Achiever, are we Civil_Disobedient?
posted by Relay at 10:58 AM on June 28, 2007


rlk: "Not the first orbital life vest. There were early concepts like the Douglas Paracone."

Ooh, that reminds me: Orbiter Paracone addon.
posted by Freaky at 6:49 PM on June 28, 2007


Little Lebowski Achiever, are we Civil_Disobedient?

I was really tempted to say, "That's just, like, your opinion, man."
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:56 AM on June 30, 2007


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