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Gliding To The Edge Of Space

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A crowd-funded campaign for the not-for-profit Perlan Project aims to raise more than $2 million to build the Perlan II sailplane and send it to a near-space altitude of more than 90,000 feet. The project hopes to use “stratospheric mountain waves and the polar vortex” to reach the target altitudes and to collect atmospheric data along the way. Flying in near-vacuum conditions, the aircraft will need to reach near-transonic speeds to create enough lift for flight. The project predicts building costs to exceed $1.4 million with equipment and flight testing to add an additional $800,000. Perlan II is meant to extend the efforts of the NASA Dryden Perlan Project, which included Steve Fossett and in 2006 set a record for altitude in an unpowered aircraft.

The Perlan project began in 1992 and attracted the attention and funding of Steve Fossett in 1999. Fossett then served as the mission pilot along with Einar Enevoldson in a modified DG-505M sailplane. The men became the first pilots to soar to 50,671 feet in an unpowered aircraft. Perlan II aims to smash that record, sending an unpowered aircraft higher than the 85,069 feet altitude record set in 1976 by the SR-71 Blackbird. The mission expects to apply collected data to climatic research and short-term weather predictions “by measuring the 3D wind speed and turbulence.” Flying at the edge of space will require an aircraft with complete life support systems and advanced aerodynamics that foil flutter and manage shock wave formation. The proposed design spans 84 feet with a projected weight of 1800 pounds, gross. Its Vne of 56 knots will equate to roughly 377 KTAS at 90,000 feet. The project will begin seeking crowd-funding this Nov. 18.

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