Reinventing Space Flight

2014 ,    »  -   14 Comments
Ratings: 8.07/10 from 111 users.

A small group of scientists has come to Fairbanks, Alaska to realize what may seem an impossible dream... to revolutionize space travel. They're there to test components of this rocket by sending them aboard helium balloons to an altitude of 30 kilometers into the harsh environment of space.

Above the north and south poles, conditions are about as harsh as you can get. Our planet is bombarded with a steady stream of charged particles from the Sun. Earth's magnetic field accelerates and channels them, turning the night into a spectacle of color.

While most astronauts train to live and work in zero gravity, or to move around in bulky space suits, these would-be space explorers are preparing to negotiate some of Earth's harshest environments. Once they launch their payload, it will rise slowly into the upper atmosphere. After drifting through the night, above 99% of Earth's atmosphere, the payload will detach from the balloon and parachute down to the ground.

Where it goes and finally lands will depend on highly variable wind conditions. The team must be prepared to retrieve it across a large stretch of Alaska's snowy wilderness. To understand the revolutionary nature of the idea they are pursuing, we go back to the dawn of rocketry.

In over a hundred years, the technology of a rocket has hardly changed. Fill a cylinder with volatile chemicals, and then ignite them in a controlled explosion. The force of the blast is what pushes the rocket up. Nowadays, chemical rockets are the only ones with enough thrust to overcome Earth's gravity and carry a payload into orbit. But they are not very efficient.

The heavier the payload, the more fuel a rocket needs to lift it into space. But the more fuel a rocket carries the more fuel it needs. One of the fabled Saturn V rockets of the Apollo era, for example, weighed in at 177,000 kilograms. Filled up with fuel, it weighed almost 16 times that. The space shuttle, with maximum payload, weighed about 100 thousand kilos. Add tanks and fuel, and it lifted off at 2 million kilograms.

14 Comments / User Reviews

  1. awful_truth

    An interesting documentary regarding new approaches in space flight. Although it is only in the early stages of development, it shows some promising new avenues in propulsion. A worthy look for any space nuts out there! (other than me)

  2. johnBas5
  3. johnBas5

    Before I watch the documentary, just a small remark.
    The balloon thing is a little bit underwhelming for what the title of the documentary suggests the documentary would be about. Using a balloon is not a big breakthrough or redefinition of space flight at all.
    The text should tell about other things too if there are other things in the documentary.

  4. IIE_Nath
  5. IIE_Nath

    Awesome, on the watch list it goes

  6. awful_truth
  7. awful_truth

    @LLE_Nath: If you like this, check out the doc '9 minutes before space'. A Russian doc showing the entire trip to the ISS, and back including experiments, and all the ordeals of space flight. Well worth the watch. (90 minutes)

  8. susan g
  9. susan g

    Amazing, fabulous, inspiring! So worth watching!

  10. JPH
  11. JPH

    Inspiring like the music in background that was used. We are on the precipice of new exciting bold age of space exploration with the privatization participation.

  12. Richard Neva
  13. Richard Neva

    In one hundred years from now this will look like the Wright Brothers adventure in the air, just think about that!

  14. Earl Carlson
  15. Earl Carlson

    The meat of this documentary is about 5 minutes in middle. Most of it could have been eliminated.

  16. IIE_Nath
  17. IIE_Nath

    Sweet ill look it up always looking for space docos I haven't seen yet.

  18. Colin
  19. Colin

    You're right- the balloon isn't anything new, but the point is that they are doing some end-game stress-testing of delicate components of an engine concept that they have already proven to actually produce sufficient thrust, so long as the environment doesn't wreck the delicate internal components. We are on the edge of great change.

  20. Toy Pupanbai
  21. Toy Pupanbai

    I think they should use hydrogen, not irreplaceable helium for this use.

  22. stephen
  23. stephen


  24. race_to_the_bottom
  25. race_to_the_bottom

    Agreed. It is not nearly as dangerous as people think.

  26. Captain_Hook
  27. Captain_Hook

    Rockets are about as practical for space flight as rowboats are for trans-oceanic voyages. Solar sails may be an intermediary step, but until we learn to manipulate gravity the way we can the electromagnetic force, we're not getting past Mars.

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