Virgin Galactic has revealed images of new spacesuits its pilots will wear when they take paying tourists on a trip to the edge of space early next year.
Designed in collaboration with Under Armour, the Virgin Galactic Pilot Corps will wear the suits and footwear on future flights – including a test flight this month.
That test flight, due to launch as soon as December 10, will be the first ever crewed trip to space from New Mexico and will include an experimental payload for NASA.
Wearing the spacesuit on the December flight will be Chief Pilot, Dave Mackay and Pilot, CJ Sturckow – who is making his sixth trip to space and is also expected to become the first person to fly to space from three different US States.
The spacesuits will also be worn by the pilots when they fly the first paying passengers to the edge of space early in 2021 – including Sir Richard Branson.
Here three members of the Virgin Galactic pilot corps – Dave Mackay (centre), Kelly Latimer (left) and Jameel Janjura (right) are modelling the new suits with their commercial astronaut wings on the left breast
Wearing the spacesuit on the December flight will be Chief Pilot, Dave Mackay (pictured) and Pilot, CJ Sturckow
Both pilots on the December test flight are members of the eight person team in the Virgin Galactic Pilot Corps that will operate all future flights.
This design is the latest addition to the astronaut apparel created with Under Armour, which also includes the Spacewear System that Virgin Galactic Future Astronaut customers will wear for their spaceflights.
The first tourist trip to the edge of space with Virgin Galactic – on board VSS Unity – is expected to happen by the end of March 2021 and will include Richard Branson.
Randall Harward, Under Armour’s SVP of Material and Manufacturing Innovation said pilot suits have been refined over decades to embody a certain look and function
For the pilots’ suits, the design team followed a brief to create a non-pressurised spacesuit that looked good and conveyed the pilots’ role with the space line.
It also had to work to practically supports their unique task of flying regularly at over three times the speed of sound into space and back.
Due to these unique requirements, each member of the Pilot Corps was heavily involved in the design process, providing feedback and wearing test versions.
Randall Harward, Under Armour’s SVP of Material and Manufacturing Innovation said pilot suits have been refined over decades to embody a certain look and function.
‘But they also have to perform beyond expectations,’ he explained.
‘We took that as a starting point and built in all of the Under Armour solutions we’ve developed for comfort, support, movement and temperature management.
‘Our goal was to build a suit that leaves a pilot – like any athlete – feeling confident and with zero distractions during a critical moment of performance. It’s been a fascinating journey,’ he added.
For the pilots’ suits, the design team followed a brief to create a non-pressurised spacesuit that looked good and conveyed the pilots’ role with the space line
When it came to choosing the most suitable materials for the pilot spacesuit, safety and comfort were the key criteria, according to a Virgin Galactic spokesperson.
The spacesuit is lightweight at just over 2.2lb, but consists of flight-grade fabrics that ensure it is robust and strong.
The suit is optimised for comfort in all stages of flight, the team explained. Including during boost when pressure forces the pilots backwards into seats and during zero gravity when shoulder straps hold them in their seats.
It is hoped the flight will provide some of the final pieces of data needed for Virgin Galactic to close the last remaining verification reports required by the FAA
Other spacesuits, such as ones created by SpaceX and Boeing for NASA flights to the International Space station, have to be pressurised, unlike the Virgin Galactic suits
The knitted fabrics which form the spacesuit also help to regulate body temperature whether outside in the New Mexico sunshine or during the various phases of flight.
Virgin Galactic to resume tests of its rocket-powered space plane VSS Unity as early as next WEEK
Virgin Galactic to launch its VSS Unity space plane as early as next week.
This will be the first flight since coronavirus restrictions were introduced in New Mexico.
The flight will launch on or after December 11 from Spaceport America, New Mexico and will see two pilots and an experimental payload for NASA sent into space.
This is the first of three flights scheduled to operate between now and the end of March 2021 – the next will go into space with a crew of Virgin Galactic mission specialists, and the final will carry paying passengers, including Sir Richard Branson.
The flight will be operated by essential personnel only – no guests or media onsite – due to social distancing measures aimed at reducing the spread of coronavirus.
Virgin Galactic’s pilots and Future Astronaut customers will form a unique crew on each spaceflight, but it was important to make the pilot spacesuits distinguishable from the Spacewear System created for Future Astronauts, Virgin Galactic said.
This is so the team can highlight ‘their different roles during spaceflight’.
They all follow a common colour palette but the pilot suits also include black to set them apart and remind them ‘the destination is the black sky of space’.
The pilot spacesuits also include the Virgin Galactic pilot wings emblem, which ‘captures the spirit and essence of flight and represents the elegance, speed and dynamism of a Virgin Galactic spaceflight’.
Each spacesuit is personally tailored for the pilot to ensure an optimum fit and comfort and includes the pilots name embroidered on the front with their commercial astronaut wings.
‘These features are a reminder of each pilot’s personal journey; from the dream of flight to membership of a unique corps of professional space pilots.’
Dave Mackay, Virgin Galactic Chief Pilot said: “It’s a real honor for all of us in the Virgin Galactic Pilot Corps to wear these spacesuits.’
‘The thoughtfulness of the design ensures the suits are not only comfortable and practical, but also bespoke to each pilot,’ he added.
He said when he first put on the suit he felt a sense of the significance of the mission.
‘I’m very much looking forward to wearing my own spacesuit during New Mexico’s first human spaceflight later this month and then many times in the future as we share the wonder of space with our Future Astronauts.’
HOW DOES RICHARD BRANSON’S VIRGIN GALACTIC CONDUCT ITS SPACE FLIGHTS?
Unlike other commercial spaceflight companies, such as Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic initiates its flights without using a traditional rocket launch.
Instead, the firm launches its passenger-laden SpaceShipTwo and other craft from a carrier plane, dubbed WhiteKnightTwo.
WhiteKnightTwo is a custom-built, four-engine, dual-fuselage jet aircraft, designed to carry SpaceShipTwo up to an altitude of around 50,000 feet (15,240 metres).
The first WhiteKnightTwo, VMS Eve – which Virgin Galactic has used on all of its test flights – was rolled-out in 2008 and has a high-altitude, heavy payload capacity.
Unlike other commercial spaceflight companies, such as Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic initiates its flights without using a traditional rocket launch. Instead, the firm launches its passenger-laden SpaceShipTwo and other craft from a carrier plane, dubbed WhiteKnightTwo. Once SpaceShipTwo has propelled itself into space its engines shut off for a period of weightlessness before returning home
Once it reaches 50,000 feet (15,240 metres) the carrier plane releases SpaceShipTwo, a reusable, winged spacecraft designed to carry six passengers and two pilots into space.
Virgin Galactic has named its first SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity – the craft that the company has used in all of its test flights – though the firm is expected to build more in future.
Once released from WhiteKnightTwo, SpaceShipTwo’s rocket motor engages ‘within seconds’, according to Virgin Galactic.
The craft will then fly approximately three and a half times the speed of sound (2,600mph/4,300kph) into suborbital space, reaching up to 360,890ft (110,000 metres) above the Earth’s surface.
WhiteKnightTwo (artist’s impression) is a custom-built, four-engine, dual-fuselage jet aircraft, designed to carry SpaceShipTwo up to an altitude of around 50,000 feet (15,240 metres)
This altitude is defined as beyond the edge of outer space by Nasa.
After the rocket motor has fired for around a minute, the pilots will shut it down, and passengers can then take off their seatbelts to experience weightlessness for several minutes.
The pilots will manoeuvre the spaceship to give the best possible views of Earth and space while raising the vehicle’s wings to its ‘feathered’ re-entry configuration, which decelerates the craft and stabilises its descent.
As gravity pulls the spaceship back towards the Earth’s upper atmosphere, astronauts will return to their seats ready to return to our planet.
At around 50,000 feet (15,240 metres), after re-entry, the pilot will return the spaceship’s wings to their normal configuration, ready to glide back to Earth for a smooth runway landing.
Once it reaches 50,000 feet (15,240 metres) the carrier plane releases SpaceShipTwo, a reusable, winged spacecraft designed to carry six passengers and two pilots into space. Virgin Galactic has named its first SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity (pictured) – the craft that the company has used in all of its test flights – though the firm is expected to produce more in future