Spacesuits for You and Me

“Orbital Outfitters”, a California and Washington D.C. based start-up company, has demonstrated the first space suit designed for private space travelers. The spacesuit prototype was presented at this year’s X-Prize Cup, an annual air & Space exposition founded in order to encourage space research and innovation in the private sector. The company intends to provide emergency space suits and apparel for crew and passengers riding aboard the world’s first commercial spaceships.

The IS3C spacesuit demonstrated (Credit: Orbital Outfitters)
The IS3C spacesuit demonstrated
(Credit: Orbital Outfitters)

Orbital Outfitters‘ IS3C (Industrial Suborbital Space Suit for Crew) was designed for spaceship pilots, who will be flying customers to outer space in the not-so-distant future. Several companies have already announced their plans to offer commercial suborbital trips no later than 2010. Jeff Feige, CEO of Orbital Outfitters, said his company will soon reveal a model of a passenger spacesuit as well, adding that space travel reservations are quickly piling up. “Our mission is to provide low-cost, industrial quality spacesuits and related services to companies providing commercial and government space travel” – he said.

IS3C was developed by a team of spacesuit and life support experts, including the Hollywood Academy Award winner – special effects expert Chris Gilman, and several former NASA scientists. The spacesuit’s inner layer is made from breathable materials, such as polyurethane, which is capable of preserving the atmospheric pressure level and of extracting sweat from the material underneath it. Details in regards to other fabrics that comprise the IS3C have yet to be disclosed. The most important aspects on which the company’s engineers focused were safety and mobility. Feige said they have succeeded in developing a relatively light suit with lower production costs than any NASA spacesuit. He added that the spacesuit has been tested and performed well under higher pressures than those used in NASA’s suit tests.

First private space suit ( (Credit: Orbital Outfitters)
First private space suit
(Credit: Orbital Outfitters)

Orbital Outfitters has a contract with the California-based “XCOR Aerospace” – a private firm engaged in research, development, and production of horizontal, rocket-powered, launch vehicles for suborbital and orbital travel. Orbital Outfitters will provide “XCOR Aerospace” with their IS3C spacesuits. The company is planning to offer a leasing arrangement for its customers, in order to lower the prices of its costly products.“There’s a new era starting right now in Space,” said Rick Tumlinson, chairman of Orbital Outfitters. “Billions of dollars are flowing into all kinds of new commercial spaceships to carry all kinds of people into Space. Orbital Outfitters and our parent XTreme Space Inc. intend to help make this happen, make it happen in style, and make it happen at a profit – for the rocket companies, for us and for our investors.”

Space tourism was perhaps mocked back in the 1990’s, but today the idea is a driving force for the so-called “NewSpace” industry. This commercial space industry is expected not only to provide private “trips to space”, but also to assist NASA by servicing the International Space Station and helping out in the agency’s various space shuttle missions. Many of those who invest in NewSpace start-ups claim that the only way to sustain and develop space exploration is by commercializing Space. Others say it is wrong to make Space commercial, due to the extremely high risk level involved. The question remains – how realistic is “space privatization”?

TFOT recently covered the “BioSuit” project – another spacesuit technology developed by Dava Newman, Professor of Aeronautics, Astronautics and Engineering Systems at MIT. TFOT also covered the development of Travelex’s QUID or Quasi Universal Intergalactic Denomination – the first currency to be used by future space tourists. Finally, TFOT has been following the work of the U.S. Company Bigelow Aerospace, which is developing fully functioning commercial space hotels (prototypes – Genesis I and Genesis II).

You can find more information about the Orbital Outfitters’ products at the official website.

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