SPACE INNOVATION: Spacesuit Innovations For A Renewed Space Age
By Jim Lubinskas // January 10, 2019
Space travel back in style again
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – Space travel is back in style again.
From Elon Musk’s SpaceX to President Trump’s call for a Space Force to NASA’s announced plans to return to the moon, hardly a week goes by without major headlines involving space.
But has spacesuit technology kept up with these ambitious plans?
Draper, which provided the navigation and guidance systems for all of NASA’s Apollo missions, continues to innovate for the American space program by creating several new space suit improvements.
• Space Boots – For an astronaut on Mars, maintaining solid footing can be a real challenge, where reduced gravity and the constraints of a bulky pressured suit limit sensory feedback. The protective helmet further limits an astronaut’s peripheral vision, forcing space explorers to lean forward and look down to see tripping hazards.
In this environment, a punctured suit or damaged life support system can be fatal. A team of researchers at Draper studied this problem and developed a new approach for how astronauts see and feel the terrain around them. By equipping a special boot with built-in sensors and tiny haptic motors that vibrate, Draper gives astronauts the information they need to stay safe.
• “Take Me Home” Button – In the zero-gravity environment of space, astronauts can become confused, disoriented and even a little queasy. In such a state, a routine spacewalk quickly can turn dangerous. For an astronaut unable to get his bearings, operating a jetpack and making it back to safety can be a real challenge. A Draper team has studied astronauts and their habitat onboard the International Space Station.
The team recently filed a patent for a self-return system to ensure astronauts are safe, even if no other astronaut can rescue them. The current spacesuit features no automatic navigation solution—it is purely manual—and that could present a challenge to astronauts if they are in an emergency.
• Spacesuit Gyroscope – Astronauts spinning out of control have just a few seconds before becoming unconscious. It’s hard for astronauts – or space tourists ejecting at high altitude – to stop a spin, and a suit without the appropriate safety features could make the situation worse. Draper has designed a system that’s intended to stop a spin at extremely high altitude using a network of sensors and control moment gyroscopes.
“Tracking an astronaut in motion, in three-dimensions and in any orientation, is a unique and complex challenge associated with living and working in space,” explained Kevin Duda of Draper. “The integration of spacesuit technologies into a small, wearable form factor also has the potential to quantify biomechanics and movement here on Earth.”
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