ESA and Omega create new astronaut watch
If there's one steady market for wristwatches, it's astronauts. Omega watches, for example, have flown on manned space missions since the Omega Speedmaster Professional Chronograph was carried on Project Mercury in the early 1960s. Now the latest version, the Speedmaster Skywalker X-33, is seeing service on the International Space Station (ISS). Based on a patented idea by ESA astronaut Jean-François Clervoy, the timepiece is not only made to withstand the rigors of space, but also to carry out functions useful to space travelers.
The Omega Speedmaster Skywalker X-33 is an advance on the Swiss watchmaker's Speedmaster Professional X-33 and uses Omega's calibre 5619 advanced multi-functional quartz chronograph movement with a thermo-compensated integrated circuit and upgraded software. This is encased in a 45-mm, Grade 2, brushed titanium case with brushed crown and pushers, a ceramic bezel featuring a chromium nitride scale, and a 60-minute indicator marked by luminescent white Super-LumiNova with green emission.
The dial is a digital/analog readout with skeletonized black and white hour and minute hands coated with Super-LumiNova, and a red second hand. The dial itself is black with white indexes and hour markers, and an LCD readout with grey characters. One problem is digital/analog displays is that the analog hands tend to get in the way of the digital display, but the Skywalker disengages the hands on command to clear the display.
Having flown in space three times in the 1990s, Clervoy came upon an idea for improving wristwatches so they could track mission events in a way suitable for astronauts. The Skywalker's Mission Elapsed Time (MET) and Phase Elapsed Time (PET) allow astronauts to set mission time or the time for a task for any date in the past or future and calculate how much time remains or has elapsed. In addition, there are 19 functions including multiple alarms with different ringtones, time zones, perpetual calendar, chronograph, and countdown functions.
ESA holds the patents on the Skywalker, and though it is not involved in the watch's manufacture or sale, Omega is operating under license, and the space agency did subject the timepiece to rigorous testing to see if it was suitable for space duty. Carrying out tests at ESA's ESTEC technical center in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, and at a nuclear testing facility in Sweden under the supervision of France’s ONERA/DESP aerospace center, the Skywalker was subjected to vibrations and accelerations simulating a space vehicle launch, vacuum, temperatures from minus 45° C (minus 49° F) to 75° C (167° F), and simulated space radiation.
"We are delighted that our friends at the European Space Agency have tested and qualified the Speedmaster Skywalker X-33 for all its piloted missions, which is a natural extension of our long relationship with NASA and its space programme," says President of Omega, Stephen Urquhart. "ESA’s abilities and ambitions are extraordinary, as demonstrated by their recent high-profile successes with Rosetta and Philae, and we are proud that their name and endorsement grace the back of this iconic chronograph."
The Omega Speedmaster Skywalker X-33 sells for US$5,900.