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Upstart unveils tourist space suit

Washington, D.C., start-up Orbital Outfitters shows off a prototype of its first pressurized suit for the commercial space industry at the 2007 X Prize Cup.

HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M.--Fashions for private space travel are becoming reality.

On Saturday, the Washington, D.C., start-up Orbital Outfitters showed off a prototype of its first pressurized suit for the commercial space industry here at the 2007 X Prize Cup, a two-day space and air show.

Orbital Outfitter's spacesuit Stefanie Olsen/CNET Networks

The suit, called the IS(3)C (for Industrial Suborbital Space Suit-Crew), is specifically designed for pilots who will man an upcoming generation of suborbital rockets. Companies including Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and Richard Branson's at a time up on suborbit trips with a few minutes of weightlessness, for example. Those flights will be manned by one or two pilots.

Jeff Feige, CEO of Orbital Outfitters, said that the company plans to release a passenger suit mid to late next year "when there will be demand." If all goes according to plan, Virgin, Blue Origin and others plan their first trips in 2009 and 2010.

Orbital Outfitters designed its suit under contract with XCOR Aerospace, a developer of rocket-powered vehicles based in Mojave, Calif. The company called the design "retro," yet it's made with modern off-the-shelf materials like breathable polyurethane, which comprises its inner layer. The material holds pressure, but wicks away sweat.

Feige wouldn't divulge all of the materials, but he said most can be bought commercially. The key, he said, is that the suits are customizable to the pilot so they have greater mobility. It's also incredibly light and cheaper to make than any NASA suit, he said. So far, it's tested well above the pressures NASA uses for its suits, he said.

Still, a man modeling the pressurized outfit Saturday looked more than a little uncomfortable.