Science of IRON MAN: Flight
IRON MAN can fly higher and faster than the F-22 Raptor. Is this just a comic book fantasy? His inexhaustible chest power source provides energy to "repulsors," which drive him through the air without propellant. Are those air intakes in his boots? They appear to ingest air, compress and expel it like a jet engine. His hand repulsors steer him and have the added use of blasting things. This may seem fantastic, but a good suit may lead to an unexpected application for Space.
The biggest expense in human Spaceflight comes from putting people into orbit. After years of design work, the Orion spacecraft is about 2000 pounds overweight. Private companies like Space-X are trying to create more economical spaceships. Again we must sit back and think of what hasn't been considered. For certain critical missions, we may not need a spaceship at all.
An Advanced Spacesuit is based on direct counter-pressure, allowing a suit that fits close to the skin. For EVA it can be armoured like Iron Man, protecting the wearer from hazards of Space. Fitting the suit close to the skin allows integral nutrition and waste elimination, meaning an astronaut can spend days in the suit if necessary. Like Iron Man, the outer armour can be equipped with a reaction control system and integrated helmet controls. This allows the suit to become a true wearable spacecraft.
Imagine the launch of a small booster, the size of Falcon 1 or smaller. The payload can be just one suited astronaut, along with time-critical small payloads. (This would be handy next time the computer aboard ISS crashes.) She is surrounded not by a ship, but by a payload shroud that jettisons in the upper atmosphere. Upon reaching orbit she separates from the upper stage, then flies solo like Iron Man. The view would be more spectacular than any spaceship porthole.
Atmospheric entry can also be accomplished without a ship. This astronaut reclines on a 2-meter heat shield. The shield may be a "ballute" that inflates from the backpack. If an astronaut needs to return in an emergency, she passes over a large landmass and fires retro-rockets. This allows an inaccurate but safe return to Earth.
Several heatshields could be docked around ISS to serve as escape pods. Presently ISS relies on a single Soyuz for escape, limiting the permanent crew to three. In an emergency the crew could be separated from the Soyuz, as happened during a fire aboard Mir. As we saw last month Going Ballistic, even the reliable Soyuz can miss the target by hundreds of miles. Multiple lifeboats are far better than just one.
The current Extravehicular Mobility Unit (spacesuit) was designed around Shuttle and can not fit into Orion. Once the Shuttle stops flying there is no way to get more EVA suits to ISS. The crew will rely on whatever suits are left up there, until they wear out. Why not a suit that delivers itself to orbit?
The dream of flying like Icarus is closer than most think. Advanced spacesuits will allow astronauts to fly far higher and faster than an F-22. Spaceflight is dangerous, and many emergencies can require a quick rescue in Space. Presently lifesaving options are highly limited. Someday an emergency will arise that is beyond our current spacecraft capabilities. Then we will need an Iron Man.
A gallery of Space stories is at the Carnival of Space!