US sportswear brand Under Armour has designed the spacesuits and footwear that Virgin Galactic‘s pilots will wear for its first commercial spaceflight later this month. Chief pilot Dave Mackay and pilot CJ Sturckow will wear the spacesuits and footwear on future flights, including its first commercial spaceflight that will fly private astronauts – astronauts on spaceflights not conducted by a government agency – into space from Spaceport America in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
This mission is due to take place later this month, with the flight window opening on December 11th, 2020.
For the pilots’ suits, the design team followed a brief to create a non-pressurized spacesuit which not only aesthetically conveys the pilots’ role in Virgin Galactic’s mission, but which also practically supports their unique task of flying regularly at over three times the speed of sound into space and back.
“A pilot’s flight suit has been refined over the decades to embody a certain undeniable look and function, but they also have to perform beyond expectations,” said Randall Harward, Under Armour’s SVP of Material and Manufacturing Innovation. “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.”
When it came to choosing the most suitable materials for the pilot spacesuit, safety and comfort were the key criteria. The spacesuit is lightweight at just over 1kg, but consists of flight-grade fabrics that ensure it is robust and strong. The suit is optimized for comfort in all stages of flight whether that be during boost, when the forces press the pilots backwards into their seats, or in zero gravity where cushioning on the shoulders provides comfort as pilots are held in positions by seat straps. 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’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, highlighting their different roles during spaceflight.
A common color palette accentuates the fact that pilots and customers are all part of one crew. But the addition of black within the pilot spacesuits, sets the pilots a little apart and is a reminder that the destination of each flight 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. The front of the spacesuit features the pilot’s embroidered name and a placement for 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.
“It’s a real honor for all of us in the Virgin Galactic Pilot Corps to wear these spacesuits,” says Dave Mackay, Virgin Galactic Chief Pilot. “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.”
Under Armour also created the 3D-knitted covers for the seats in the interior cabin of the Virgin Galactic SpaceshipTwo craft, which was designed in collaboration with London studio Seymourpowell.
The craft will be designed to take six passengers on a sub-orbital flight into space to view the Earth and experience several minutes of weightlessness at $250,000 per seat.