Apparel firm teams with Virgin Galactic
As it prepares to rocket paying customers into suborbital space — possibly as soon as this year — Virgin Galactic is expanding its developmental focus from the technical aspects of the Spaceshiptwo spacecraft system to the passenger experience of its astronauts.
The spaceline, which is building and testing its spacecraft at the Mojave Air and Space Port, announced this week it has partnered with athletic apparel company Under Armour to create the space suits its passengers and pilots will wear.
The gear will be designed to accommodate passengers through a flight regime that includes accelerating to speeds of Mach 3, then a period of weightlessness where they will be able to leave their seats and move about inside the spacecraft cabin.
Virgin Galactic has long advertised that the passenger experience on its spaceflights would include a “shirtsleeves” environment, without requiring bulky, pressurized spacesuits.
In addition to clothing passengers and pilots, the firm will also design uniforms for the ground teams at Spaceport America in New Mexico, where Virgin Galactic’s commercial will be based.
Under Armour also will draw on its work with athletes to design programs for passengers’ physical preparations and recovery, focusing operations on mobility, strength, fitness, nutrition and sleep, company officials said.
“I’ve loved its determination to push technical boundaries in order to improve
performance, so could not have been more pleased when (Under Armour CEO) Kevin (Plank) and his talented teams stepped up to the considerable task of creating a range of space apparel and performance programs for Virgin Galactic,” Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson said in a statement announcing the partnership.
Virgin Galactic is moving through the final stages of the Spaceshiptwo development program. The most recent flight on Dec. 13 was the first to cross the 50mile altitude mark considered by some to be the edge of space. Additional test flights to expand the spacecraft’s flight envelope are still needed before commercial service will begin, which could happen later this year by some estimates.
Running in parallel with the envelope expansion flights will be flight testing of the spacecraft’s interior and passenger procedures, Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said following the milestone flight.
The last two flights have included passenger seats installed in Unity, and future test flights will include Virgin Galactic staff flying as passengers to test the passenger experience.
The number of test flights remaining and the timeline to begin commercial service will depend on analysis of the tremendous amounts of data generated, until officials are confident of the spacecraft performance. However, it is “not a huge number of flights” left, Whitesides said.
With the capability for a longer rocket burn, “the vehicle will definitely go higher,” he said, but just how high ultimately will be decided by the test program.
Commercial flights will move from Mojave to Spaceport America, and Branson confirmed he plans to be on board the first commercial flight.
The Under Armour clothing and footwear will be unveiled ahead of Branson’s flight.
Some 700 people have booked tickets for passenger flights, and Branson said in December he expects ticket sales to begin again after halting them following the 2014 accident of the Spaceshiptwo prototype, which killed Scaled Composites pilot Mike Alsbury and injured pilot Pete Siebold.
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— Richard Branson (right) and Kevin Plank are founders of Virgin Galactic and Under Armour, respectively. The space company recently announced a partnership with the athletic apparel brand to develop space suits for passengers on Virgin Galactic’s Spaceshiptwo spacecraft, as well as physical programs to prepare them for their flight to suborbital space and recovery.