A few days ago, Elon Musk promised to showcase what SpaceX’s next-gen spacesuits will look like. Today on Instagram, Musk delivered on that promise, releasing the first image of those futuristic spacesuits and a promise to share more information about them in the coming days.
Here’s what we know about the SpaceX spacesuit
The suit showcased today looks very similar to the designs that were leaked last year. At the time, many doubted the authenticity of the images, but these new images now add more credibility to them.
“First picture of SpaceX spacesuit. More in days to follow. Worth noting that this actually works (not a mockup). Already tested to double vacuum pressure. Was incredibly hard to balance esthetics and function. Easy to do either separately,” Musk said in the Instagram post.
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The Tesla CEO shared no other technical details about the suit, but he promised to reveal further details in the days to come.
The SpaceX spacesuit is being built as part of SpaceX’s ongoing partnership with NASA. Specifically, it is for NASA’s commercial crew program, in which SpaceX will transport people to the International Space Station. According to The Verge, astronauts will use the SpaceX spacesuit while they are inside the company’s Dragon Capsule; the spacesuits are not meant for use during spacewalks. Since these are pressure suits, astronauts will wear them during transport in case the capsule depressurizes.
SpaceX is the first to pioneer reusable rockets and capsules, but the company has yet to carry out a crewed mission. Since 2014, SpaceX has been carrying cargo capsules to the ISS, and in June 2018, it is scheduled to launch its first crewed mission in partnership with NASA. This will be when the suit will first be used. Musk’s company also plans to send space tourists on a flight around the moon sometime next year.
Boeing vs. SpaceX
Earlier this year, Boeing also displayed its spacesuit design, which astronauts will wear on their trip to the ISS when flying in Boeing’s spacecraft. Though the SpaceX spacesuit looks similar to Boeing’s new spacesuit, it gives more “emphasis on fashionable looks and possibly an even slimmer line,” says TechCrunch.
Unlike Boeing, SpaceX developed its suit for astronauts in-house. Apart from the suit, Musk’s company brought many other designs and manufacturing processes in-house to exercise greater control over the supply chain and lower costs as well. Boeing partnered with spacesuit specialist David Clark Company to design its spacesuit, notes TechCrunch. In addition, Musk’s spacesuit is white, while Boeing has showcased blue spacesuits.
SpaceX and Boeing are in a race to design, develop and operate their spacecraft to take astronauts to the ISS. Both companies claim they will be able to complete their crew test flights by 2018, but their past records do not speak very highly of them when it comes to meeting deadlines, notes Ars Technica. In addition, the fact that Boeing revealed its suit earlier than SpaceX in no way means that the former is ahead. In fact, as of now, it is unclear which will reach the finish line first.
According to NewScientist, NASA is overseeing the development of three next-gen spacesuits, but a recent audit suggests that the space agency may run out of stock even before the new ones are ready for use.