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After the Challenge: Flagsuit LLC
Two-time Astronaut Glove Challenge winner Peter Homer of Flagsuit LLC demonstrates the spacesuit gloves he is designing for commercial spaceflight. Two-time Astronaut Glove Challenge winner Peter Homer of Flagsuit LLC demonstrates the spacesuit gloves he is designing for commercial spaceflight. (Flagsuit LLC)
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The Flagsuit gloves are designed to offer flexibility, ease of movement and the least amount of resistance on the joints. The gloves are designed to offer flexibility, ease of movement and the least amount of resistance on the joints. (Flagsuit LLC)
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Who they are: Flagsuit LLC was founded in 2007 by developer Peter Homer for the purpose of competing in NASA's Astronaut Glove Challenge. He created prototypes at his home in coastal Maine. Flagsuit won the competition twice, taking home $450,000 in NASA-awarded prize money. A jack of several trades -- satellite design, sail making, microgravity experiment design -- Homer now focuses full time on spacesuit design. He still runs a one-man operation, but said he hopes to add staff members once demand for commercial spacesuits increases.

Challenges: 2007 and 2009 Astronaut Glove

Competition stats: Flagsuit LLC took home first-prize winnings both years for different accomplishments. The 2007 Astronaut Glove Challenge was centered on the pressurized bladder portion of the glove. Homer won the first-place prize of $250,000 for that phase. For the 2009 Challenge, teams had to construct a complete glove, including the outer, thermal-micrometeoroid-protection layer and the inner, pressure-restraining layer. Homer won an additional $200,000 grand prize at this competition.

For more information: http://www.flagsuit.com; Twitter: @pkhomer; Facebook: Flagsuit LLC

A solo effort at his dining room table led to nearly a half-a-million dollars in prize money for two-time Centennial Challenges winner Peter Homer. The one-time satellite designer, sail maker, microgravity experiment designer and community center director is now the full time CEO of Flagsuit LLC, which he runs from his home in Southwest Harbor, Maine.

He created Flagsuit with the sole original purpose of competing. "I didn't have any expectation of winning, but the possibility of the prize kept me from giving up when things went wrong with my design and I had to start over just weeks before the Challenge. It was the combination of an interesting challenge and reasonable scope that I felt was achievable with my then-modest resources," Homer said.

Under the Flagsuit name, Homer competed in the 2007 and 2009 Astronaut Glove challenges. He was able to create the winning designs that increased the flexibility of the fingers, knuckles, thumb and wrist. His gloves had the least amount of resistance among all of the competitors. For these two first-place wins, he won a total prize purse of $450,000.

Homer also made sure to involve his three children in the challenge, then ages 15, 11 and 6. His oldest son, Matthew, documented the project with videos and photos and accompanied his father to the competition. "One of the things I wanted to show them is that if you set your mind to something, you can do just about anything," Homer said.

Flagsuit has grown professionally since the competitions, obtaining contracts with Orbital Outfitters in 2007 to supply gloves for its Industrial Suborbital Spacesuit manufactured for XCOR Aerospace. In 2011, Flagsuit signed a sole-source, prime contract with NASA to develop and test improved spacesuit glove assemblies.

"The change was dramatic," Homer said. "When I entered the Astronaut Glove Challenge, I was running a nonprofit and had been away from engineering for almost 10 years. After winning in 2007, I founded Flagsuit LLC and have been developing spacesuit gloves and components as a full-time job ever since."

Homer credits Centennial Challenges for pushing would-be inventors to follow through on their ideas. "Prize competitions are extremely important because of the value delivered at a relatively low cost," he said. “In addition to a multiplier effect of many teams competing for one prize, there is the factor that nothing is paid until the challenge is met. Having a prize incentive keeps development teams going through the hard parts and keeps them focused on the true objective."

While Homer does most of the Flagsuit work himself, he does draw upon subcontractors and part-time help as the market demand ebbs and flows. He hopes to be able to hire a crew once rocket companies make spaceflight more conventional.

"While waiting for the commercial spacesuit market to solidify, I've been working hard on terrestrial uses for pressure suits and gloves," he said. The latest Flagsuit LLC venture is the development of a hyperbaric suit to be used for the treatment of mild-moderate traumatic brain injuries, in particular for frontline soldiers who otherwise appear unharmed. "These have the potential to help millions of people," he said.

Homer also contributes to local outreach efforts by working with the Astronomy Institute of Maine to bring hands-on science and engineering learning opportunities to elementary school children and with NASA Academy to bring educational outreach to adult engineers and program or project managers. "I've said before that all of the hands-on skills I used to build that first pair of gloves were learned by the eighth grade."