Orbital Outfitters Propels Midland's Space Industry Forward With Suits, Training

Orbital Outfitters Propels Midland's Space Industry Forward With Suits, Training

Anum Valliani

NewsWest 9

MIDLAND - It's the kind of thing you'd see at NASA but it's coming to West Texas.

You've heard about XCOR setting up shop in Midland for space flights. But just as important are the other companies that help make their mission successful. Orbital Outfitters is one of those businesses heading to the Tall City. They're not just about making space suits, they also give travelers an out of this world experience right from the ground. It's all part of the training they offer, according to CEO Jeff Feige.

"You can be sitting in a seat that is exactly like your real seat on the spaceship, you can be doing it in your real spacesuit, hooked to the real life support system and then we'll be able to simulate the entire range of everything from a leaky valve to a broken window. We're going to be able to do all that in one location," he said.

That one-of-a-kind place will be at the company's future building. The airport is taking on the reins to build the facility smack dab between the XCOR hangar and the runways. It'll be the only private center in the U.S. that's able to offer those experimental services.

"It's also the only place where you can fly into an airport and go to the other side of it and go do your test," Livingston Holder, a partner with Holder Aerospace, said.

Holder is the prime contractor for the building's Midland Altitude Chamber Complex, which is where the training takes place. There are multiple kinds including a small equipment chamber, a one person chamber, a two-person chamber to test suits and a cabin chamber that can house as many as ten people.

"How you feel wearing a spacesuit, how you feel wearing a spacesuit that's pressurized and how you feel when you have to do a task in a spacesuit, all very different," he said. "So what we can do is essentially remove the atmosphere and put you at any altitude your equipment is going to function at."

That way, if anything goes wrong travelers know how to handle it before they're in space-before it's too late. Meanwhile a mini mission control center can watch.

"It's a different type of chamber. It's acrylic so you can see the people inside and see exactly what they're doing and how they're feeling," Holder said.

But the company's emergency training is not mandatory for those with tickets to space, at least for now.

"Exactly what is going to be a good idea versus a required idea where training is concerned is still something that I think is being working out," Feige said.

Feige says the company is in a position they've never been in before. Orbital Outfitters has been developing and testing small satellites, equipment and other things to keep up with the industry's recently exploding popularity.

"Just a few years ago, this was a very hard business to be in and now we're sort of pushing back and chasing away people who are trying to give you money to build more things," he explained.

Feige said the potential for growth is really high in Midland and Holder said the venture down from the Washington D.C. based company will open up the door to others. But for now, it's just a bit more than an inkling.

"For us, to be frank, this only works in the long run if this becomes a hub of activity. If it does not become a hub, if it's just us and XCOR then this is probably was a mistake from our side, so this has to become a hub and we are working hard to make sure that it is," Feige said.

Orbital Outfitters wants to break ground on their building at the end of October. They hope to be up and running a little more than a year after.