APPROACHING THE FINAL FRONTIER
■ BY L. PAUL VERHAGE
NEAR SPACECRAFT RECOVERY
SYSTEMS: PART 1
IT’S AWESOME TO RECEIVE DATA FROM YOUR near spacecraft at an altitude of
85,000 feet. Moreover, chances are good that if the sky is clear, you’ll even
see its balloon as a tiny white dot in the sky. At this altitude, the balloon is 20
feet across and expanding as it rises. Shortly though, that white dot in the sky
disappears. Now it’s up to the recovery system to bring your near spacecraft
HISTORY OF THE
The original Renaissance man —
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) —
drew a picture of one of the first
parachutes in the early 1480s. Shown
in Figure 1, Da Vinci’s parachute
isn’t today’s sport parachute; it’s an
inverted rigid pyramid and meant to
■ FIGURE 1. An early parachute
design by da Vinci. It should work,
but it wouldn’t be very safe or stable.
save the lives of people trapped in
burning buildings. There’s no record
that Da Vinci ever built (like many of
his inventions) a working model of
When Faust Vrancic (a.k.a.,
Fausto Veranzio) made the first
parachute jump in 1617, it was still
believed parachutes had to be rigid.
In nearly 150 years of thought, no
one had conceived that a soft fabric
parachute could open on its own and
remain opened. That’s why Vrancic’s
parachute was a square of fabric sewn
to an open framework of wooden
boards as you can see in Figure 2.
It wasn’t until the late 1790s that
Frenchman Jean-Pierre Blanchard
developed a parachute without the
wooden frame. His foldable parachute was sewn from sheets of silk —
a lightweight and strong material.
As early as 1793, the parachute was
used (by Blanchard) as a rescue
device for ruptured balloons.
That makes the near space recovery
parachute a part of a 215 year
history of parachuting.
PARACHUTES FOR NEAR
The first rubber balloons to carry
balloon sondes in the early 20th
century relied on parachutes or
multiple balloons to safely recover
the payload and its data (Figure 4).
Initially though, the multiple balloon
method was the preferred method
for retrieving the expensive payload.
■ FIGURE 2. Vrancic’s large parachute
design — the Homo Volans or
Flying Man. Vrancic — like da Vinci
— believed that a parachute could
not hold itself open on its own.
Image from About.com:Inventors.