Flight platform makes a splash on English South coast

Written by: mf | Published:

The 'pre-flight' Flight Platform that pilots will use this summer in the QinetiQ 1 mission to take a manned balloon to the edge of space was sent crashing into the sea during a series of tests at QinetiQ's Bincleaves site, on the Weymouth coast.

UK science and technology company QinetiQ is sponsoring the attempt to break the world altitude record for a manned balloon, aiming to reach 25 miles (132,000ft) high. The mission will take place some time between July and September this year, depending on weather conditions.
Sscientists at QinetiQ's Bincleaves site worked with the QinetiQ 1 technical team to carry out the flight platform tests. When the balloonists return from the edge of space their platform will splash down into the Atlantic Ocean. The tests included floatation tests, designed to check buoyancy of the craft in water and how well it will right itself if tipped over. More dramatic, however, were a series of drop tests, which saw the platform splash down as if it were landing in the water, from a crane positioned on QinetiQ's Weymouth site.
During the tests, the flight platform, weighing 1500kg, was first floated in the water to check its buoyancy. In particular the attitude (whether it is leaning), freeboard (how much is showing above the water line) and stability of the platform were tested. This was carried out both with and without floatation bags inflated. The QinetiQ 1 team used a rigid inflatable boat to tow the platform to the centre of the Bincleaves basin and moor it between two buoys. The flight platform was then tilted through a series of angles and released, to ensure that it righted itself through its own buoyancy.
Then, the open flight platform was dropped from increasing heights into the water. The aim was to see how the platform behaved both in a normal splashdown and also at the higher speeds it might reach during an emergency landing. The scientists started with a drop from 10ft (3m) to test the platform splashing down at an equivalent speed of just 25 feet per second.
The climax of the tests was a drop designed to test the platform closer to its limits. The platform was dropped from 20ft (6m), reaching 35 feet per second as it entered the water. During normal splashdown, the platform and balloon will descend at a rate controlled by the pilots. In an emergency landing, the pilots will remain seated in an emergency position and will descend under parachutes attached to the platform. Only as a last resort will the pilots leave the platform and descend using personal parachutes. Today's tests were designed to assess the flight platform design including the foam crumple zones, which will absorb impact forces in a real emergency landing and help save the pilots' lives.

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