Virgin Galactic has unveiled the spacesuits that will be worn by its pilots and customers for its upcoming sub-orbital space flights from Spaceport America.
The suits will be worn on the company’s upcoming test flight on December 11, which is to be the first crewed spaceflight from the new spaceport in New Mexico. The test flight had been planned for November but was pushed back due to coronavirus precautions at the spaceport. Eventually, this will be the location where space tourism flights take off from.
Virgin Galactic said its priorities when designing the suits were safety and comfort, so the designers chose materials that are lightweight but also strong. The suit weighs just over one kilogram (2.2 pounds) and is constructed of flight-grade fabrics that work for all the flight stages including takeoff and zero gravity.
During the launch phase, pilots experience strong gravity which presses them back into their seats, so fabrics need to be durable. And the suits have extra cushioning around the shoulders to protect wearers from the straps which hold them in their seats in the zero-gravity environment.
The knitted fabric of the suit is also designed to regulate body temperature, as pilots can expect to experience a range of temperatures including hot sunshine while on the ground at the spaceport in New Mexico.
When space tourists are allowed on flights in the future, they will wear very similar suits. But the suits for the pilots have black inserts to differentiate them from the customers’. The pilot suits have a distinguishing pilot wings logo on the chest as well.
One of the people who will be the first to test out the suits in a real flight is Dave Mackay, Virgin Galactic Chief Pilot, who will be on board the test flight next week. “It’s a real honor for all of us in the Virgin Galactic Pilot Corps to wear these spacesuits,” he said in a statement. “The thoughtfulness of the design ensures the suits are not only comfortable and practical, but also bespoke to each pilot.
“As soon as you step into the suit, you immediately get a sense of the significance of our 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.”
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