Saturday, June 14, 2008

The New Suit

Nearly a year ago an advanced Spacesuit was unveiled. This week NASA chose the suit design it wants for the Moon and Beyond. Since the days of Apollo, EVA suits were the proud domain of Hamilton and Sundstrand. In a surprise decision, NASA has chosen a team led by Oceaneering and Paragon Systems. The process is such that NASA decides what it wants, then chooses contractors to build to NASA's specifications. The design chosen is strikingly similiar to what was shown to NASA last year.

Single suit system for IVA, EVA and lunar EVA

Common helmet with open-flip visor (Apollo and Shuttle EMU's can't open the visor.)

Soft inner layer

Rear Entry (The current ACES suit has a zipper in front.)

Removable outer armour for lunar EVA

The counter-pressure technology is not yet included, but that is till under development. Since the suit system is modular, MCP can be added piece-by-piece starting with the gloves. It is very pleasing when NASA adopts your ideas!

Check out the new Carnival of Space!



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice suit! Now you can exceed the speed of light with the aid of tachyons (inflatons) and go back to the time "before Big Bang". And you can continue blogging by using superluminal communication.

10:47 PM  
Blogger nige said...

Can I ask how long the spacesuit takes to put on and take off?

I'm wondering about the problems of eating (or at least drinking water) while out on energetic, long missions? In military respirator design for gas attacks, e.g. the British S10 gas mask, there is a built in drinking straw arrangement so that the wearer can drink from a water flask connected by a plastic pipe to the face mask. The previous design of the British gas mask was the S6, which did not include any drinking arrangements. This made it uncomfortable to continue wearing when the wearer became really thirsty.

The drinking arrangement would need some modification for weightless conditions, where you don't have gravity to keep the water in the storage bottle until the straw is sucked. Also, what about making bathroom visits? Is it just a case of not drinking very much and using the bathroom before putting the suit on? Of course the air conditioning in the suit will help minimise drinking requirements and therefore bathroom visits, but if the astronaut is performing physical work there will still probably be a certain amount of sweating and the need to drink water.

Last month, I tried out scuba diving for the first time (in Lanzarote), and found it to be brilliant fun with a nice cool, continuous air flow that made swimming easier than on the surface. But the compressed air cylinders are quite bulky to allow a reasonable period of energetic underwater swimming, and are heavy to carry around when out of the water. So I expect that the reason why the Apollo astronauts were able to move around so freely was the low gravity on the moon (only 1.6 m/s/s on the Moon's surface, compared to 9.8 on Earth's surface). But what happens when astronauts visit a planet where the surface gravity field is relatively strong? Either they'll have to reduce the size of the compressed air cylinders (reducing the working time outdoors), or lug around massive cylinders.

I know that a certain amount can be done by reprocessing exhaled air, e.g. removing CO_2 by pumping the air through lithium hydroxide cannisters, so that it can be breathed again since the lungs only extract a small portion of the total oxygen inhaled each time, but it still looks to me as if it's a waste of time to have human expeditions to planets with strong surface gravity, because people just won't be able to walk around freely enough when carrying the air they need to breathe.

1:29 AM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

For nige: Putting the suit on takes about 30 minutes. NASA wanted a suit that one could survive in for 120 hours with the visor down. There will be a heated drink tube going into the helmet, which will connect to a supply of frozen smoothies.

The "back end" is another issue, for which I am contributing to a solution.

Wonderful that you are enjoying scuba! It will be a while before humans visit any heavy-gravity worlds. Perhaps by then we will have powered suits like Iron Man. Weight of the oxygen tanks would be an issue; we will need to work on that.

5:22 AM  
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