Answering the Hard Questions
Hi, I’m Robert Brand, father of our intrepid pilot, Jason. I am well known in the international space sector and even had the privilege of having Apollo astronauts attend my talks, including Buzz Aldrin attending one of Navigating to the moon. I have had a long career linked to the space sector and it started when I helped wire up systems for Apollo 11 communications when I was 17 years old.
I will attempt to answer these questions. They are not the more general ones in the FAQ but they will always be interesting questions. One reader suggested that his question may have been stupid, but I believe that there are not too many stupid questions, just stupid answers. So ask away. I expect that I will be the only one that may ending up looking stupid!
Reader Earle asks:
If you use a super-pressure balloon, when it get’s to it’s highest altitude would it be possible to burn the hydrogen in the super-pressure balloon to gain more altitude ?
Robert Brand: I am afraid there is insufficient density of oxygen to burn with it and if we carried it up there, it would be heavy and stop the balloon reaching anywhere near the height it obtains with just the hydrogen. The atmosphere is so thin that you cannot gather it without a mass of machinery. Again this would stop it getting far off the ground. This is the domain of Scram Jets. Jets that can scoop up enough air by going super fast (Mach 7 and over) and then compress it and mix it with fuel from on-board tank for combustion. Australia has been a great research country for SCRAM jet technology, but the last prototype went down when the rocket carrying it, to get it to its cruising altitude, failed and we lost our last experimental vehicle. By the way, bubble wrap is like a super pressure balloon. It is inherently strong enough that the bubbles of air in the material expand a bit, but do not pop. We use bubble wrap as an insulator wrapped several times around electronics and batteries that we carry through the jet stream where outside temperatures can get to -60C. It works much the way double or triple glazed windows insulate, or the way birds or animals of many types fluff their feathers or fur to trap air to keep warm.