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Tristan Vanyai walk not work-related for, consult, very own shares in or receive resources from any company or company that would benefit from this article, and has discover no relevant affiliations beyond their scholastic appointment.

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Baumgartner prepares to exit the capsule in ~ an altitude that 22km in his march 16 test jump. AAP Image/Red Bull

Breaking the speed of sound is a difficulty for numerous reasons. Together skydivers autumn towards Earth, castle are increased by gravity. Yet as they speed up, the traction from the bordering air reduces your acceleration till they with terminal velocity.

At this point, the drag balances the gravitational (or weight) force, and they have the right to accelerate no more. Due to this limitation, standard skydivers jumping from altitudes of less than 5km can not reach speeds higher than 200-300km/h.

But the lot of drag relies on the density of the bordering air – the much more air flowing over the skydiver, the higher the drag. Since Baumgartner will be jumping indigenous much higher in the atmosphere, whereby the air thickness is much less that 1% of that at ground level, his terminal velocity will be more than 1,000km/h.

In the stratosphere, the speed of sound is about 1,100km/h. Will Baumgartner with this velocity and also become supersonic?

Perhaps. The difficulty is that at such high speeds, much more extreme impacts will begin to take it place.


A test dive native an altitude of virtually 22km was a good success.

As Baumgartner viewpoints the rate of sound, he will certainly experience an ext and much more drag. The waiting in prior of his head will certainly become an ext compressed together it is no longer able to move as quickly roughly his body.

At roughly 80% the the rate of sound (or Mach 0.8) shock waves will start to form around his body together the flow becomes “transonic”. That is, Baumgartner’s body will be surrounding by air currents travelling a range of speeds, from Mach 0.8 to the rate of sound and also beyond.

This mixture of circulation speeds can result in a lose of control and Baumgartner may be buffeted approximately due to dramatic changes in pressure.

If that reaches the speed of sound (Mach 1), a bow shock will type in prior of his head and also in a cone about him. At this speeds, the air in former of Baumgartner cannot prevent his body until it passes v the shock, an extremely thin layer wherein pressure, temperature and density increase dramatically. In ~ this point, Baumgartner will have actually truly become supersonic.


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Baumgartner’s pilgrimage to the stratosphere will take simply under three hours. EPA/Balazs Gardi

Eventually, the drag will certainly balance Baumgartner’s weight and he will certainly reach terminal velocity. If he increases past Mach 1.2 Baumgartner will certainly no longer be in transonic flow. The shock will certainly be kept constantly in the cone approximately Baumgartner, keeping fairly consistent pressures and also no longer being together chaotic.

As long as that keeps every one of his four within the shock cone, Baumgartner have to not endure too much an obstacle in continuing to loss supersonically. The raising drag around Baumgartner – because of the thicker atmosphere closer come the surface ar – will ultimately slow him below the speed of sound as he proceeds his descent, until at some point he deploys his parachute in ~ subsonic speeds.

The inquiry then becomes, why no jump from also higher? Why not jump indigenous the true sheet of an are at 100km?

There are number of limiting components to this question. Primarily, it would certainly be nearly impossible to construct a helium balloon come reach these altitudes.

Just as wood have the right to float ~ above water, so as well does helium ~ above air. However at one altitude the 100km the thickness of wait is negligible and there is efficiently a vacuum. Through no air to hold up the balloon, it would most likely stop much reduced in the atmosphere.


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EPA/Jorge Mitter

But even assuming you might reach an altitude the 100km safely and also jump out, other safety factors would end up being important. A skydiver would require protection from cosmic and also solar radiation the the environment protects us from ~ above the surface.

Since the dive would happen from much additional out, drag would be negligible for the bulk of the fall. This would definitely lead come supersonic speed upon entry into the denser class of the atmosphere, probably around Mach 3 (three times the rate of sound).

As the drag builds increase lower right into the atmosphere, the push would boost dramatically and also the skydiver’s suit would need strong support to take it the high tons off his head and neck.

While these concerns will still be felt during Baumgartner’s dive, they will certainly not be together extreme. His fit will absolutely need to support his neck and resolve the solar radiation, at the very least to a boy extent.

It’s probably obvious to say there are dangers with this kind of jump. A take it suit would certainly likely an outcome in ebullism, the formation of gas bubbles in bodily liquid that would certainly inflate Baumgartner’s body and also render that unconscious in ~ 15 seconds.

Even prior to this, top top the way up, if the balloon ruptures at low altitude it could crash towards Earth prior to Baumgartner has time to open the escape hatch.

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Hopefully every little thing goes smoothly and a pioneering man attached to a large balloon will certainly have accomplished a brand-new first: to rest the sound barrier by jumping indigenous the sky.