Orbital Outfitters Gives Midland Preview of Vacuum Chamber Complex

orbital_outfittersOn Wednesday, representatives of Orbital Outfitters and Holder Aerospace gave an overview of the vacuum chamber complex they plan to build to the Midland Development Corporation (MDC).

The complex features three chambers — a vacuum system, an observation room and safety support systems — according to a presentation made by co-developers Holder Aerospace and Orbital Outfitters. Two of the chambers will be used to test the space suits that Orbital Outfitters are custom-building for XCOR Aerospace’s Lynx space vehicle.

The other purposes of the chambers are to test equipment and train personnel in simulated normal and emergency flight conditions. In other words, the chambers create a vacuum environment.

“One of the things you want people to understand is what it feels like when a suit is pressurized,” said Livingston Holder, a partner with Holder Aerospace, who emphasized the bulkiness and restrictive movement of a space suit. “You don’t want the first time of feeling that in some emergency during flight. You want to experience that in training on the ground.”

Jeff Feige, chief executive officer of Orbital Outfitters, said there are two other places in the country that offers the same type of testing.

“But none of them will be able to (decompress) as rapidly and with as much capability as we’re going to have with this new facility,” Feige said. “And to be blunt, this is going to be a facility that has a look and feel that is, much frankly, sexier and a lot more exciting for people having the notion of the kind of work you are doing.”

The MDC has allocated $3.2 million to help build the altitude chamber complex. This funding is in addition to $10 million it is spending to lure XCOR from its current home in Mojave, Calif.

While Holder and Feige praised Midland, they had little good to say about the struggling town in California’s High Desert.

Holder talked about having done past space testing in desert environments, such as Mojave and Edwards Air Force Base, which is located in California as well. In those types of places, restaurant choices amount to McDonald’s, Burger King and Denny’s, he said.

“When people said the Denny’s was the best restaurant in town, I say, ‘really?’” Holder said. “You try a couple of places, and then you do say, ‘Denny’s is the best place in town.’ That’s the top of the food chain in Mojave, so to speak.”

In contrast, Feige and Holder applauded the various restaurants and activities available in Midland, even noting that they attended a Midland RockHounds game the night before.

Another welcome change for Holder and Feige when they began visiting Midland and working with the Midland Development Corp. was their perceived friendliness of residents. Holder said it was refreshing to not run into anybody who was not extraordinarily nice, while Feige said they are used to a grumpier crowd.

“It’s not just that they’re nice people or they want to take you out and help you enjoy the town,” Feige said. “You can feel the excitement about it (the spaceport) being something that puts Midland on the map.”

Orbital Outfitters is located in North Hollywood, Calif., while Holder Aerospace is headquartered in Renton, Wash.