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QinetiQ 1 is the balloon that will be used by British pilots Andy Elson and Colin Prescot to challenge the world balloon altitude record. Their aim is to ascend to 39,000m (132,000ft) on an open flight deck/gondola slung beneath the balloon.

The balloon itself is 380m (1270ft) tall, which is as tall as the Empire State Building or seven Nelson's Columns making it the biggest manned balloon in history. The envelope is made of polyethylene and will be filled with 5500m3 of helium. The volume of the gas will be 227 times larger at 30,000m than it is at sea level.

The flight deck or gondola will be slung under the balloon and will provide seating for the two pilots. The underside of the gondola has been designed to absorb impact, with crumple-zones rather like a car. The flight platform will be fitted with a bank of equipment for monitoring, communication and life support, all within easy reach of the pilots. The pilots will be strapped into their seats with five-point seatbelts for the entire flight.

Parachutes for the flight platform and both the pilots are needed in case of an emergency. Above the flight platform, a cargo chute will automatically open in the event of the balloon rupturing. The parachute can be opened at heights up to 4,500m (15,000ft) and would let the flight platform descend at 450m (1,500ft) per minute - the same speed as manned parachute jumps.

Above 4,500m, if the balloon envelope had to be cut away, the flight platform would go into freefall and automatically release a 'ringslot' parachute. These parachutes are similar to the ones that inflate behind jet planes to slow them down over short distances.

The air at 30,000m is so thin that the two pilots will have to wear spacesuits made by Zvedza of Moscow, the company that has been supplying the Russian space program since the 1950s.

The flight time is expected to be 5-6 hours for the ascent to 39,000m, 1 hour at their target altitude and then 2 hours for the descent. The gondola will splash down in the sea and be recovered.

The QinetiQ 1 team hope for an August 2002 launch either from somewhere on the coast of south-west England or from a Royal Navy aircraft carrier.


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