Ap­parel firm teams with Vir­gin Galac­tic

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Front Page -

Val­ley Press

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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Photo cour­tesy of Vir­gin Galac­tic

— 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.

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