Jetpack technology is getting better, and maybe someday, jetpacks will be available for your everyday commute. But what if, instead of just using a jetpack for a short trip, you went straight up? And up, and up, until you reached space?
How powerful are jetpacks? How fast would you have to travel? What is the death zone?
You wouldn’t be the first person to jetpack around space. In 1984, Bruce McCandless flew untethered in space using NASA’s Manned Maneuvering Unit. But you wouldn’t just be flying a jetpack in space. You’d be flying to space, which means you’d have to travel through all five layers of Earth’s atmosphere.
And the only thing between you and those crazy atmospheric conditions is a space suit. It’s definitely not going to be a smooth ride.
First, you’d need to choose your jetpack. The classic turbo-jet engine jetpack uses kerosene-based jet fuel, and it consists of two engines with fuel pumps and computers to keep the thrusts balanced.
But right now, kerosene-fueled jetpacks could only propel you straight up into the air for about 8 minutes at 193 km/h (120 mph). Another popular jetpack fuel is hydrogen peroxide. If you mix that with nitrogen, a chemical reaction creates pressurized steam, which creates thrust.
The packs weigh around 57 kg (125 lb), and they can be 2.5 m (8 ft) tall. One tank of hydrogen peroxide fuel could get you going at 160 km/h (100 mph). But do either of these have enough power to escape Earth’s atmosphere?
No. Neither kerosene nor hydrogen peroxide fuels have enough density. You’d need a fuel that weighs less and packs more power, because you’ll need to move very, very fast. That fuel doesn’t exist yet, but we’re not going to let that stop us.
Alright, you’ve got your jetpack. Now it’s time to put on your spacesuit. You’ll need something like the new high-tech SpaceX suits. They aren’t just stylish. These suits use fire-retardant Kevlar and Nomax to protect you from extreme temperatures, and they only weigh about 9 kg (20 lb).
Instead of plugging into a space capsule, you’d plug into a mini life-support system in your jetpack. And you’d need all the protection you can get, because things could get pretty rough after you lift off.
To jetpack into space, you’d need to reach escape velocity. This is the speed an object, or you, needs to break free of the planet’s gravitational force. You’d be speeding away at 40,000 km/h (25,000 mph).
But let’s play your journey in slow motion so you can really enjoy it. To start, you’d pass through the first layer of Earth’s atmosphere, the troposphere. In this layer, you’d see clouds and birds, and – watch out for that plane!
At an altitude of 8 km (5 mi), you’d need to begin using your oxygen pack. This is the death zone, as the atmospheric pressure is too low to keep you alive. You’d also notice the cold. As you reach the top of the troposphere, the temperature drops to as low as -60 ºC (-76 ºF).
At 10 km (6.2 mi), you’d enter the stratosphere. There’s not much to note here. At least it warms up a bit, although the temperature remains below 0 ºC (32 ºF). But not for long. At 50 km (31 mi) above Earth’s surface, you enter the mesosphere, and the temperature drops again.
Once you reach the thermosphere, though, things start heating up. At 85 km (53 mi) above Earth, the temperature can reach 2,000°C (3,600°F). Luckily, the thermosphere’s air density is so thin that there aren’t enough gas molecules to transfer the heat. You won’t burn up. It’s here in the thermosphere that the International Space Station orbits Earth.
To reach a stable orbit around Earth, you’d have to reach a velocity of 25,200 km/h (15,660 mph). That’s the same speed as the ISS. Now if you want to venture out even further, maybe to the Moon, you’d better be a master of your jetpack controls.
You’d need to dodge all the space debris floating around. And it isn’t slow-moving stuff either. This space junk travels at speeds over 35,888 km/h (22,300 mph). Even if you don’t get clobbered by old satellite parts, we got a problem. You didn’t plan for the trip back to Earth. And you’re running out of fuel.
- “A History Of Jet Packs In Space”. SYFY WIRE.
- “Jetpacks Have Come A Long Way, Actually”. Hall, Koss. 2020. Built In.
- “How Jet Packs Work”. Howstuffworks.
- “What Is Earth’s Escape Velocity? – Earth How”. 2018. Earth How.
- “How Fast Do Commercial Planes Fly? | Flightdeckfriend.Com”. 2021. Flightdeckfriend.Com | Pilot Jobs | Flight Training | Aspiring Pilots.