Sunday, May 25, 2014

Spacesuit Maker

If anyone wants to do anything in any part of space they have to have a spacesuit. But with each new environment a different spacesuit if required. There are suits for when a rocket launches, for when someone takes a spacewalk, for the Moon, for Mars. As the industry grows the variety of suits will have to also. Specialty suits will need to be created for orbital construction workers and extra-comfortable suits for tourists. And all of these people will always need the suits and new environments will need new suits. The market will always exist and will always be growing. Just like the clothing market on Earth now. A few companies have already started work on the spacesuits that will define the new industry. But there is plenty of room for talented individuals with a will to help people operate in space.

Spacesuits have been the domain of NASA for many years. And though there have been significant developments, spacesuits are extremely poor in design. The number one reason is because they are so arduous to use. They are like having an inflated bag around you that you must push and pull against for even the smallest movement. Even fit astronauts get a workout during a spacewalk. This is not something that would be ideal for a space tourist. But there are solutions to this problem and others that exist. Many have been researched and are in the public domain. And there are always new solutions to old problems.

Spacesuits are also not very sexy. The suits used by astronauts on the ISS today make you think of a marshmallow man with a helmet. But the current space industry is all about hype and image. It must convey a message of advanced technology and appear as one would imagine from seeing Sci-Fi movies. If the industry doesn't do this then it looks like "the same old thing." What better way to inspire people and get them behind you than to show them groups of people in futuristic spacesuits? For this reason spacesuit manufacturers have to make their suits Awesome. (SpaceX actually stipulated to thier spacesuit contractor that the suits look "badass")

But on the practical side, spacesuits are really just small spaceships. This could be a design approach in the future when suits need to be created in bulk quantities to "get the job done." Instead of working to create a suit with flexible arms and legs, a company could just make a can with arms. This is actually what the early space pioneers imagined. Such a "suit" could be used by construction crews for building space stations. Or even as a disposable unit.

What about when we go back to the Moon or even Mars. While some of the suits of the time may be modified for the terrestrial environments there will be a need for different kinds of suits in each case. Suits will have to deal with the stress of dirt and grime which is absent in the void as well as the differences in atmosphere, gravity, and activities.

Overall, spacesuits are something with a lot of design leeway allowed, a lot of design improvements needed, and a lot of niche variations required. That makes it into a very clear market opportunity. Not to mention the fact that few launch companies want to have the responsibility of creating their own spacesuits. Such side projects take away from companys', like SpaceX, primary mission of developing launch vehicles.

Orbital Outfitters Suit
Final Frontier Suit
Orbital Outfitters  and Final Frontier Design are a couple of the companies that are already working to create spacesuits for the new private space industry. Wisely, they are not only focusing on creating spacesuits that are functionally better than any suit that has been created before, but also on giving them the futuristic look that space tourists and the world will want to see. Orbital has been contracted by SpaceX and XCOR to develop pressure suits for their vehicle crews and Final Frontier recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign.

The space industry needs spacesuits, everywhere and for everything. Construction, play, escape, appearance, planetary exploration. These many applications require many different kinds of suits.

A spacesuit company is not a particularly expensive or technically challenging company to begin. Final Frontier began with a fashion designer and an ex-spacesuit designer. Such a company can gain a foothold by making pressure suits now but would have unlimited expansion possibilities as its competence grows. And even though Orbital Outfitters and Final Frontier Design already have a head start, their solutions are not perfect. A clever designer and/or entrepreneur can improve on the spacesuit as it is viewed right now and become the source for creating a very necessary piece of equipment that the entire industry has and always will need.

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