02-09-03, 22:44
UK balloonists given go-ahead
Two British pilots have confirmed they will make an attempt on the world manned balloon altitude record on Wednesday after they were thwarted by adverse cloud conditions on Tuesday.

The next launch opportunity is 0700 BST on Wednesday
The projected flight path will go out over the Atlantic Ocean
The British Airways Concorde will be diverted to the south
The team decided on Tuesday evening that they would launch their bid after meteorologists predicted favourable conditions for Wednesday.
They plan to begin inflating the envelope ready for launch around 0700 BST (0600 GMT).

Colin Prescot and Andy Elson are attempting to better a 42-year-old record set by two Americans who reached 113,740 feet (34,668 metres) off the Gulf of Mexico.

Dangers of ascent

The QinetiQ 1 balloon will take off from the stern of a prototype warship, RV Triton, stationed off St Ives in Cornwall.


If all goes well, the pair will reach their target height within five hours of the launch. They will remotely fly a tethered solar-powered plane, the Zephyr 3, around the gondola to video their progress.
The splashdown for the balloon is expected to be 50 to 100 miles (80 to 160 kilometres) out at sea.

The team is well aware of the dangers involved in the mission. One of the two US pilots who set the 1961 record was killed in an accident during recovery.

The rules for the record-breaking attempt have been changed so that Mr Prescot and Mr Elson must both survive at least 24 hours after they return to Earth.

Last minute tweaks

Mr Elson told the BBC that the delay had given him and his colleague time for more fine-tuning.

"Every time we put the spacesuits on, we learn a little bit more about the ergonomics of the flight platform.

"Today there was one switch which I managed to reach comfortably before but wasn't quite so easy to get to this time and it's an important one, it's the one that controls the ballast.
"We're just extending the switch a little bit," he said.

The QinetiQ 1 balloon is a giant polyethylene envelope as thin as a freezer bag but as tall as New York's Empire State Building.

The altitude attempt is sponsored by QinetiQ, a science and development company spun off from the UK's Ministry of Defence.

Story from BBC NEWS:

03-09-03, 20:45
'Twas a shame their seams burst!

03-09-03, 22:12
Balloonists vow to come back
Britons Andy Elson and Colin Prescot say they intend to be back next year to make another attempt on the world altitude record for a manned balloon.

On Wednesday, their bid to better the current mark set 42 years ago foundered when their giant envelope sprang a leak as it was being filled with helium.
The pair said they would go away and analyse what went wrong and then come back in 2004 stronger for the experience.

"As an engineer, I'm pragmatic," said Elson. "When we get it right, it will work; and when it works, we'll get the record; and when we get the record, we'll have a cracking party."

After the initial disappointment, Prescot too was remarkably upbeat when he faced the media.

"We first got into this six years ago and it's been relentless since then," he said. "Unfortunately, we just found another way that didn't work rather than failing. We'll get that put right and we'll succeed."

Up or down

The QinetiQ-sponsored team began inflating its balloon at 0400 BST on the deck of the prototype warship RV Triton, stationed off the coast of Cornwall.

The weather conditions were perfect, with only a slight north-easterly wind.

(1) Twist occurs as balloon comes off storage drum
(2) Extreme pressure builds at top of main balloon
(3) Seam fails when envelope is just 50ft above deck
(4) Buoyancy envelopes suddenly fall back down


All seemed to be going well when suddenly, at 0655, shortly before the spacesuited Elson and Prescot would have climbed on to their gondola, the expanding balloon collapsed.
Almost a million cubic metres of gas were venting through a breach at the top of the envelope. Technicians suspected a twist in the balloon as it was unfurled from its storage drum might have led to a section of the skin becoming over-pressurised.

The now damaged QinetiQ 1 balloon - the largest envelope ever constructed for crewed flight - will be s****ped.

"It will go into the melting pot and come out as bin bags," Elson confirmed. "These balloons are a one-shot thing. Trying to unpack and repack nine acres of polythene is not an option.

"These balloons either stand up beautifully and fly, or they go in a skip."

Once the team is sure it knows the precise cause of the failure and how to prevent it happening again, an entirely new balloon will be made.

This will, however, require further investment from QinetiQ, the science research company spun out from the UK's Ministry of Defence. It has already put 2m into the venture.

One of the firm's managing directors, Dr David Anderson, said it still wanted to be part of the project.

"Clearly the events of today force us to look at the situation and we will be in discussion with the team over the coming weeks about where we go from here," he said.

Greatness awaits

If the problem was diagnosed quickly it would be possible to manufacture another balloon in a matter of weeks, Elson said, but by then favourable weather conditions in the UK would have passed.

And the team rejected the idea of taking the record bid to a country in the Southern Hemisphere.
"This is very much a British project," Prescot said. "QinetiQ is a British company, the pilots are British - there's an enormous amount of British technology in there. It would be a shame not to do it here."

And mission control chief, Brian Jones, argued that even the much-maligned UK climate provided what they wanted in terms of wind and clear skies.

"The conditions this morning were absolutely perfect," he said. "There was nowhere in the world that we could have had better conditions than we had today.
"It's extremely galling but it just increases our determination. It's the nature of great achievements that they are preceded by failure. We will be back."

The current world altitude mark for a manned balloon of 113,740 feet (34,668 metres) was set by Vic Prather and Malcolm Ross above the Gulf of Mexico.

The US Navy pilots undertook the journey to gather information about the high-altitude environment for the Mercury space programme.

Story from BBC NEWS: