Skeith De Wine
ESA Topical Team
Final Frontier Design
Arthur Woods .
Final Frontier Design, LLC, (FFD) was founded as a partnership between Nikolay Moiseev and Ted Southern in 2010, after a successful entry in the NASA-sponsored 2009 Astronaut Glove Challenge. Together from the FFD studio in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, they are reinventing astronaut wear for a new era of space travel. FFD builds on Moiseev’s 20 years of experience working as a space suit designer at Zvezda, Russia’s national spacesuit supplier. He has worked on both I.V.A. (Intra Vehicular Activity) and E.V.A. (Extra Vehicular Activity) spacesuit technology, and his designs have flown in space since 1988. Southern adds his materials and fabrication experience from ten years of special effects and costume building for entertainment and industry in New York City.
FFD specializes in high performance pressurized gloves and state of the art “I.V.A” pressure safety garments for the commercial future of space travel. In 2009, the duo’s award-winning glove design outperformed current NASA standards, scoring them a $100,000 prize and a spot on NASA’s contractors list. The next year, they built their first suit, a bright-yellow intra-vehicular activity suit meant to be worn inside a spacecraft. The suit is featured in Free Enterprise, along with their award-winning glove, and other components that demonstrate the process behind their various products.
Their second suit was built last December 2011, in preparation for a visit from SpaceX, the California-based company that sent supplies to the ISS on its Dragon capsule in May 2012, marking the first time a non-government ship had docked with the station. IVA suits are a safety backup in case of an emergency loss of cabin pressure like the oxygen masks in commercial airliners. The future commercial space industry (SpaceX, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, Virgin, Armadillo, XCOR, etc.) will need these suits for the basic safety of manned flights. Current NASA suits can cost into the millions, while FFD’s suits are projected to retail for a small fraction of this. The FFD studio houses a vacuum-chamber box Southern designed and built to test the integrity of their pressurized gloves. To try out other garments, they inflate them with an air compressor and adjust regulators on the suit. Most of the fabric they use is commercially available urethane coated nylon; the same stuff used in river rafts and blimps.
Real would-be spacewalkers shell out about $50,000 for a full Final Frontier suit, which is still a deal compared to the $250,000 “ACES” outfit NASA uses now. And that’s the point of FFD: to address pesky astronaut pet peeves, by making gloves more flexible, equipment more affordable, suits less bulky, and easier to put on. It takes about two months to produce one suit from scratch, but they plan to make about one suit a week if they get enough orders to scale up production. “There’s a whole slew of private space companies coming online that want to send humans into space,” Southern says. “That sector needs spacesuits. They’re not served by current providers. That’s who we see as our customers.” He goes to say, “It’s really early in the private space industry now. No one has sent up people yet,” Southern says. “We’re kind of banking on an industry that doesn’t exist yet.” Still, once daredevil Felix Baumgartner made his record-breaking sub-orbital jump October 14, 2012, their phone started ringing. Other companies suddenly decided they wanted to outfit their own space jumpers.
One of those customers is the Spanish company Zero2Infinity, which expects to be selling sub-orbital rides in its giant balloons, similar to the ones Baumgartner used, by 2015. A ride in the Zero2Infinity balloon will cost about $140,000 and involve a two-hour ascent to 36 kilometers, where passengers will cruise for two hours. FFD is also developing products for a terrestrial market, including astronaut related wear such as high tech outer gloves for skiing, anti-G pants for blood circulation, and radiation protection garments for medical and first responders.
• Diagram of IVA Space Suit components, 2012.
• View of studio, 2012.
• IVA Space Suit Pressurized Glove, 2009. Award winning entry in the NASA-sponsored 2009 Astronaut Glove Challenge. All photos courtesy of Final Frontier Design.