Virgin Galactic and Under Armour unveil new spacesuits

Virgin Galactic has unveiled the spacesuits its pilots will wear as they fly private astronauts into space and we can’t help feeling a little, well, disappointed. We were perhaps expecting something a little more glamorous than what look essentially like blue boilersuits. 

Designed in collaboration with the company’s Technical Spacewear Partner, Under Armour, the Virgin Galactic Pilot Corps will wear the spacesuit and footwear on future flights – including the first human spaceflight from New Mexico, which is due to take place this month with the flight window opening on December 11.

Wearing the spacesuit on the December flight will be Chief Pilot, Dave Mackay and Pilot, CJ Sturckow – who is expected to become the first person to fly to space from three different U.S States. They are both members of the eight-person team in the Virgin Galactic Pilot Corps.

This design is the latest addition to the astronaut apparel created with Under Armour, which also includes the Spacewear System that Virgin Galactic Future Astronaut customers will wear for their spaceflights.

For the pilots’ suits, the design team followed a brief to create a non-pressurised spacesuit that supports their unique task of flying regularly at over three times the speed of sound into space and back. Each member of the Pilot Corps was heavily involved in the design process, providing feedback and wearing test versions of the spacesuit while completing various assignments.

When it came to choosing the most suitable materials for the pilot spacesuit, safety and comfort were key. The spacesuit is lightweight at just over 1kg, but consists of flight-grade fabrics. 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. Each spacesuit is personally tailored for the pilot and features the pilot’s embroidered name and placement for their commercial astronaut wings. 

Says Randall Harward, Under Armour’s SVP of Material and Manufacturing Innovation:

“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. 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.”

Adds Dave Mackay, Virgin Galactic Chief Pilot:

“It’s a real honor for all of us in the Virgin Galactic Pilot Corps to wear these spacesuits. 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.”

Chris Price