When Felix Baumgartner jumped out of a capsule at the edge of space, Cobham Orchard Park took the supersonic plunge with him.
Cobham made components that the Austrian skydiver used in his pressure suit for his historic leap from more than 24 miles above Earth. Millions of viewers watched the Red Bull Stratos Mission last month as Baumgartner reached a top speed of 833.9 miles per hour, then parachuted safely into New Mexico.
Cobham, also known locally as Carleton Technologies, has a long history of contracting with the space and defense industries. When Baumgartner’s team was acquiring the technology he needed to accomplish the feat, Cobham’s kit turned out to be a natural choice.
Baumgartner’s pressure suit was modeled on a proven design used by the U.S. Air Force, said Mike Todd, life support systems engineer for the Stratos project. “The Cobham hardware is used in the Air Force suits; we were able to use the same hardware in our suits,” he said.
Todd was familiar with Cobham through his previous work at Lockheed Martin on the military’s high-altitude program, said Ryan Edmonds, a design engineer with Cobham. “He knew we were the people to go to.”
Likewise, Cobham believed its products were in capable hands, with Todd – dubbed Baumgartner’s “life preserver” by the Stratos mission – playing such a key role in the project, Edmonds said.
The jump produced amazing images, statistics and records. Video footage captured Baumgartner hopping out of a balloon-hoisted capsule 128,100 feet up – the highest-ever jump – then hurtling toward Earth in a four-minute, 22-second free fall. He became the first person to break the sound barrier without traveling in a jet or spacecraft.
Cobham helped Baumgartner pull off the jump with several vital components, said Tim Sopko, general manager. It supplied a dual helmet regulator for providing oxygen; a dual suit controller to maintain safe pressure in his suit; and an exhalation valve to vent exhaled gas and makeup gas flow into the suit. It also provided a hand-held ventilator for preflight breathing, to remove nitrogen from his blood and prevent decompression sickness.
The company also supplied jump bottle regulators for providing oxygen during the free fall and suit pressure testers to ensure everything was working properly, Sopko said.
The life-support system in Baumgartner’s suit was the same as the one that Cobham makes for an Air Force U-2 pilot’s protective assembly and for the space shuttle advanced crew escape suit. Without it, a skydiver jumping from more than 62,000 feet would see his body fluids “begin to boil from lack of atmospheric pressure,” according to Cobham.
Cobham officials said they were confident in how their components would perform, but they were as eager as any other viewers to see how Baumgartner would do. “When he opened the door, it was a little nerve-racking,” said Jim Talty, director of engineering. “By the end, we knew that everything was working properly.”
Baumgartner returned safely to Earth, the best endorsement Cobham could receive.
“All the Cobham products performed as advertised, we never had any problem with any of the units,” Todd said.