Spacesuit future looks sleek
NASA has learned the hard way that water is an extra slippery customer in space. Water leaking around fan blades in a spacesuit life support system almost caused an astronaut to drown last July, according to a report the US space agency released yesterday.
Thankfully, Luca Parmitano, who was outside the International Space Station when he reported feeling water on the back of his head, abandoned the spacewalk in time and made it back inside. NASA now says the likely cause of the leak was that a water separation pump became clogged, causing water to back up and flow into the suit’s air vents something its engineers had not anticipated.
The agency also revealed that the same suit had leaked only days before. At the time it was put down to a m mulberry sale inor problem with the suit’s bag of drinking water, one that posed no barrier to the suit being used again by Parmitano.
The malfunction highlights the complexity of spacesuits, which are much, much more than souped up clothing. The type of suit Parmitano wore has been in use for 35 years, but now space garb may mulberry sale be on the brink of a transformation. From NASA “suitports” to designs from emerging commercial players, we bring you three things that look set to transform spacewear.
Suitport: Just jump in and spacewalk(Image: NASA)
Taking into account other cases of spacesuit glitches, NASA is currently honing its next generation suits, called . The focus of the first prototype the Z 1 (above) is easy dressing and undressing.
Existing suits have soft legs and a hard fibreglass upper body, which are tough to put on and take off. Rather than being worn on and pressurised inside a spacecraft, the Z 1 would be mounted to the outside of the craft. Astronauts would simply slide through a hatch into the back of the Z 1, then close the hatch behind them and spacewalk away.
The technology that makes the Z 1’s “suitport” possible also shortens the time it takes for an astronaut to get used to breathing the purer air inside. That means astronauts can more quickly be suited up and ready to explore. De suiting is also easy: returning explorers would self dock with the craft and slip back out especially helpful if things go wrong during a spacewalk, as they did for Parmitano.
Sadly, the suitport won’t be headed to the ISS any time soon, as you would have to change the configuration of the station’s airlocks to use it, says Philip Spampinato at ILC Dover in Frederica, Delaware, the company working on the Z series for NASA. The Z series is a kind of testbed for several concepts that are being developed in parallel. The first sample of the next in the series, the Z 2, should be delivered to NASA by the end of 2014, says Spampinato. A flight ready suit won’t be ready until 2020 at the earliest.
Indoor suit: Skin me up, Scotty(Image: NASA Waldie)
Spacesuits aren’t just for spa mulberry sale cewalks: they can also help astronauts inside the ISS. Next year the space station should welcome its first “skinsuit” a sleek spandex affair that looks something like a futuristic wetsuit. Named the Gravity Loading Countermeasure Skinsuit (above), it was designed by researche mulberry sale rs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with the support of the European Space Agency.
The skinsuit is meant to squeeze an astronaut to create pressure, mimicking the way Earth’s gravity affects the body. The idea is that wearing the suit should counterbalance some of the effects of weightlessness, such as muscle loss and weakening bones.
Researchers at MIT and King’s College London have worked on various iterations of such a suit for a decade, and one is finally close to going into space. Danish astronaut Andreas Mogensen will try it out when he heads for the ISS in September 2015.
Commercial outfitters: watch this space
We all know that these days, government agencies aren’t the only game in space, so will private enterprise shake up spacesuit technology just as it could revolutionise space flight and exploration?
ILC Dover is hoping to share its spacesuit smarts with commercial firms vying to launch astronauts into space, either as tourists or to do work on board space shuttle replacements, on behalf of NASA. These companies’ plans do not include spacewalks, at least in the short term, so their suit specifications are different. “The commercial guys are only looking for suits that stay inside the vehicle. All they are doing is carrying people up and down, so that’s a different beast,” says Spampinato.
Commercial space flight firm SpaceX plans to send astronauts to the ISS using a modified version of its Dragon capsule, which already ferries supplies there. The firm recently posted a job opening for a spacesuit engineer. Spokesperson Hannah Post confirmed the company is developing its own suit, but says it is not ready to share details.
Clarification: Since this article was first published on 27 February 2014, it has been updated to recognise the role of King’s College London in developing the Gravity Loading Countermeasure Skinsuit.