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neil4768
01-09-03, 23:22
Two British pilots have delayed their attempt on the world altitude record for a manned balloon because of unfavourable weather conditions.
Colin Prescot and Andy Elson are attempting to better a 1961 mark set by two Americans of 114,400 feet (34,667 metres).

The UK team were due to lift off at about 0700 BST (0600 GMT) on Tuesday but their bid has been put back 24 hours.

They plan to inflate the giant envelope that will carry them into the stratosphere from the back of a prototype warship, RV Triton, stationed off St Ives in Cornwall.

BBC correspondent Robert Hall, who is on the ship, said the attempt was postponed because of a minor weather front.

He said: "There's going to be a bit of cloud about tomorrow afternoon and they are worried that when they're descending through the cloud the balloon could get iced up, which could pose a risk to the pilots."

'Disappointment'

The team was hoping to have some sunshine to power the solar engines on a propeller-driven plane, Zephyr 3, which Mr Prescot will try to fly, he added.

Project flight director Alan Noble said the postponement was a "bit of a disappointment".

"But balloonists tend to be sanguine. We waited a year to do this. Another day does not make a lot of difference," he added.

If all goes well, the pair will get to their target height of 130,000 ft (39,500 m) within five hours of the launch. A splashdown should occur 50 to 100 miles (80 to 160 kilometres) out at sea.

BBC News Online will be streaming a live TV feed direct from the balloon throughout the flight.

Tense beginning

The current record was set by US navy pilots Malcolm Ross and Vic Prather in Strato-Lab 5 which flew above the Gulf of Mexico.

QINETIQ'S ASCENT TARGET

Prather was killed in an accident when he was recovered from the water and the UK duo are well aware of the risks involved in their mission.
"There are a great many things that worry us but we've had two years to work on this and we've trained fully," Colin Prescot said just before he boarded Triton.

"We've rehearsed all the potential problems and we believe we have back-ups for them all."

Andy Elson added: "We are trying to imagine what is going to trip us up and trying to make sure we don't have any embarrassing moments.

"The sooner we can get it all together and off the deck the safer we are. The most risky area certainly is the beginning."

Their QinetiQ 1 balloon is the biggest manned envelope ever constructed. When inflated, it will stand 1,270 ft (390 m) tall - about the same height as New York's Empire State Building, or seven times the height of Nelson's Column in London.
The polyethylene envelope - which has the same thickness as a freezer bag - is designed to carry 44 million cubic ft (1.25 million cubic m) of helium.

It should be visible to people on the ground for hundreds of kilometres around.

Solar plane

The pilots - hooked up to a supply of pure oxygen and wearing pressure-resistant spacesuits designed by Russia's Zvezda company - will ride in an open gondola.

Scientists say the pair will face temperatures as low as -70 Celsius and high levels of ultraviolet radiation as they rise to almost four times the altitude of a commercial airline flight.
The duo will remain seated all through the mission but they will have only limited time to enjoy the view.

There are cosmic radiation and micrometeoroid experiments to be performed and Prescot will try to fly a solar-powered propeller-driven plane, Zephyr 3. Only rocket planes and the shuttle have gone higher than the target altitude expected of Zephyr.

The plane will be tethered to the flight deck and will video the progress of the record attempt.

Official ratification

"We need to break the existing record by a minimum of 3% but perhaps the most difficult thing is that the pilots have to come back down to Earth and land in the water with the balloon," said QinetiQ 1 mission control chief Brian Jones.

"They can't simply cut the balloon away and parachute down, which was the case several years ago, and that's a really tricky thing to achieve," explained Jones, who was the first balloonist to circumnavigate the globe.

Any record claim made by Prescot and Elson will be scrutinised by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), the world's air sports federation.

Andy Elson, 48, from Somerset, is a balloon designer and engineer. Colin Prescot, 53, from Hampshire, is a commercial hot air balloonist and aerial filmmaker.
They already hold a number of ballooning records including the world endurance record for any aircraft in the Earth's atmosphere - a journey that lasted 17 days, 18 hours and 25 minutes.

"The history of this project is amazing," Prescot said. "In the 50s and early 60s, the Russians and the Americans were sending men up in balloons to find out how to survive outside the atmosphere.

"When Gagarin went into space on top of a 'roman candle' everyone forgot about the balloonists but they were the pioneers."

The altitude attempt has been sponsored by the QinetiQ company, a science and development spin-off from the UK's Ministry of Defence.

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