Virgin Galactic, the space tourism startup that could be months away from its first commercial flight, unveiled its line of Under-Armour-made spacesuits for passengers.
The royal blue jumpsuits are made of lightweight “flight-grade” fabric designed to keep customers comfortable as they hurtle more than 50 miles into the atmosphere at up to three times the speed of sound. The material is made from special yarn that Under Armour says can help regulate body temperature.
The Under Armour space gear includes a base layer, spacesuit, footwear, a training suit and a jacket.
At a press conference Wednesday morning in Yonkers, Galactic’s CEO, British billionaire Richard Branson, put on one of his signature PR stunts, with dancers wearing the spacesuits inside a zero-gravity simulation chamber. Branson also donned his own spacesuit, which he plans to wear as Virgin Galactic’s first passenger after the company finishes its test flights. Commercial service is expected to begin next year.
Even for a company that regularly outfits professional athletes, executives at Under Armour said there was a steep learning curve to design an ensemble fit for spaceflight. Under Armour designer Nick Cienski said he watched “Battlestar Galactica” and other sci-fi TV shows and movies for design inspiration.
“Going to space presents an entirely new challenge for us,” Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank said in a press release. “We’ve had to put a dedicated team at the very best at Under Armour that’s been working day and night.”
The company researched what its passengers will endure aboard Galactic’s rocket-powered plane, called SpaceShipTwo, which will ride to about 40,000 feet while strapped to a massive mothership. Then, the space plane will detatch, fire up its engine and swoop straight up with its two pilots at the controls. At the peak of the flight, customers will experience a few minutes of weightlessness and can peer out the plane’s windows at Earth’s curved horizon and the blackness of outer space.
About 600 people already have reserved tickets to ride aboard a Virgin Galactic flight, at prices up to $250,000 apiece.
From takeoff to landing, the entire mission will last under two hours. That’s brief for a spaceflight, so the passengers won’t be have to wear the same type of protective gear required of NASA astronauts when they travel into Earth’s orbit.
Ondrej Doule, who works on spacesuit designs at Florida Tech, told CNN Business that suborbital flights present unique challenges, because the human body must endure rapid changes in G forces — from up to six times the normal weight of gravity and back to weightlessness, all within minutes.