While the European Space Agency isn’t planning to build their own spacesuits anytime soon, they want to be ready. ESA recently had the Space Suit Design Competition, allowing the public to propose designs for future European extra-vehicular activity (EVA) suits.
The competition received 90 submissions and experts selected five winners. This first design, above, was created by Oussama Guarraz, focusing on “modernity, cutting-edge technology, innovation, and sustainability.”
NASA and Axiom Space Inc. provided a first, limited look at the new spacesuits that will be worn by the next astronauts to land on the Moon. The Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit (AxEMU) spacesuit that will be worn for the Artemis missions was only partially revealed at an event at Johnson Space Center in Houston, in order not to give away any proprietary information about the suit.
“Since a spacesuit worn on the Moon must be white to reflect heat and protect astronauts from extreme high temperatures,” Axiom Space said in a press release, “a cover layer is currently being used for display purposes only to conceal the suit’s proprietary design.”
NASA announced they have chosen Axiom Space to build the spacesuits for the next astronauts to walk on the Moon. The spacesuits will be used on the Artemis III mission, which is planned to land the first woman and the first person of color on the lunar surface.
Axiom Space says the new spacesuits will provide astronauts with advanced capabilities for space exploration while providing NASA commercially developed human systems needed to access, live, and work in microgravity as well as on and around the Moon.
NASA has struck deals with two commercial teams to provide the spacesuits destined for use when astronauts return to the moon by as early as 2025 — and there’s an extra twist that might have sounded alien to the Apollo moonwalkers a half-century ago. This time, NASA won’t own the suits.
Back on March 26th, 2019, NASA was forced to cancel the first all-female spacewalk because they didn’t have the right spacesuits available on the ISS. There was a short-lived social media storm over that development, as some claimed it was evidence of sexism on the part of NASA. But that small storm didn’t have legs and it died out, because no serious-minded observer thinks that NASA is actually sexist.
Now, the problem has been worked out, and the spacewalk will happen on October 21st, when astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir will walk outside the ISS and install new lithium-ion batteries. Theirs is the first of five walks needed to complete the installation.
SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk made public the first official photo of the commercial space company’s spacesuit design with a post on Instagram today. He indicated he’ll have more details soon and said this first ‘reveal’ isn’t just a prototype design; it’s a real, working spacesuit.
“Worth noting that this actually works (not a mockup)” Musk said. “Already tested to double vacuum pressure.”
The person inside the suit – in what looks to be a computer generated photo – looks much like Musk himself, although the face is rather hard to make out.
Following the design of many previous spacesuits, it comes in white. Musk said in designing the suit, it was “incredibly hard to balance esthetics and function. Easy to do either separately.”
There has been some discussion on social media about the orientation of the flag, as it appears to many to be “backward.” However, this follows US military custom of flags on uniforms, positioned on the right shoulder in this same orientation, with stars facing forward. This gives the effect of the flag “flying in the breeze” as the person in the uniform/spacesuit moves forward.
These are the spacesuits that will be worn by the astronauts who make the first flights on the Dragon Capsule to the International Space Station as part of the commercial crew program. The target for the first humans aboard Dragon is next year, mid-2018.
If you are looking for a spacesuit that has a little more pop of color — as well as a heart-felt mission — NASA also held a special news conference from the International Space Station today revealing a colorful new spacesuit created by children around the world who are suffering from cancer.
The Space Suit Art Project is a collaboration between NASA, spacesuit maker ILC Dover and children in hospitals around the world. This suit, called Unity, is the third in a series of suits. The suits are made of colorful patches made by young cancer patients, giving the kids an opportunity to be part of a lasting and out-of-this-world project.
Astronaut Jack Fischer donned the special (non-functioning) spacesuit and said it was tricky to get into, just like a real spacesuit. But this suit, Fischer said, “gives you the honor to represent the bravest kids in the world, who put it together.” Fischer’s daughter Bethany, is a cancer survivor.
You may have thought that whole ‘going to the bathroom in space’ issue had already been resolved, with the International Space Station operating continuously with crew on board since 2000. But as we reported back in December, long-duration, deep-space human missions will create a possible scenario of needing to take care of human waste in a spacesuit longer than just a couple of hours. And so NASA and HeroX issued a Space Poop Challenge, to create an “in-suit waste management system” that can handle six days’ worth of bathroom needs.
HeroX announced this week that five thousand different teams had submitted entries to this challenge, but Air Force officer and flight surgeon Thatcher Cardon won the $15,000 top prize by thinking out of the box, or out of the spacesuit in this case. His concept figures out a way to handle waste by getting it outside of and away from the spacesuit.
For this challenge, NASA wanted to crowdsource the concept of getting away from the MAGs (Maximum Absorbency Garment) – basically adult diapers – currently worn during 7-8 hour-long spacewalks. They need something to handle ‘bathroom needs’ for long duration missions or even an emergency (think Mark Watney) where astronauts might need to spend several days in a spacesuit.
Drawing on his “flight surgeon expertise and borrowing a design from the lingerie industry,” Cardon created the “MACES Perineal Access & Toileting System” that places a small airlock opening called the “perineal access port” in the crotch — or “fig leaf area” as Cardon’s press release called it — through which various devices can be inserted to handle liquid or solid waste.
Cardon said the port imitates surgical technologies such as laparoscopy that use small openings to insert surgical instruments and uses devices that are maneuverable with a spacesuit-style gloved hand.
And if you think inflatable space modules are the wave of the future, you’ll love Cardon’s proposal for an inflatable bed pan. The bedpan has an absorbent liner and is can be slide through the port. Once in place inside the spacesuit, it inflates to capture the waste.
Cardon also invented a diaper made of one, long strip. The strip has segments of absorbent gel alternated with plastic segments that layer over the crotch. When one layer is soaked, the astronaut pulls it out through the port and tears it off like tape from a dispenser, exposing a fresh layer of gel.
Cardon said he filed a patent on his devices this week, as many NASA technologies have found widespread use on Earth. Cardon thinks his ideas may have extensive application. For example, the strip diaper might reduce the number of diaper changes needed by bedridden patients.
The $10,000 second-place prize went to three doctors from Houston that called themselves the “Space Poop Unification of Doctors” team. They created a devices that would direct waste through tube that empties into a small storage tank inside the suit.
In third place for a $5,000 prize was the “SWIMSuit—Zero Gravity Underwear.” These underwear disinfect the waste and store it inside the suit.
Cardon said in a press release that his involvement in the Space Poop Challenge was “a ton of fun,” and that he involved his entire family and co-workers, and that his small family practice office “was in an uproar” while he was working on his inventions.
Cardon said he will celebrate his win with a poop themed party for his colleagues, family, base community and church friends, complete with poop emoji cupcakes, special-ordered from the local bakery.
Thanks to Dr. Cardon for sharing his images with Universe Today.
Boeing has unveiled the advanced new lightweight spacesuits that astronauts will sport as passengers aboard the company’s CST-100 Starliner space taxi during commercial taxi journey’s to and from and the International Space Station (ISS) and other low Earth orbit destinations.
The signature ‘Boeing Blue’ spacesuits will be much lighter, as well as more flexible and comfortable compared to earlier generations of spacesuits worn by America’s astronauts over more than five decades of human spaceflight, starting with the Mercury capsule to the latest gear worn by Space Shuttle astronauts.
“The suit capitalizes on historical designs, meets NASA requirements for safety and functionality, and introduces cutting-edge innovations,” say NASA officials.
The suits protect the astronauts during both launch and reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere during the return home.
Indeed, Chris Ferguson, a former NASA Space Shuttle Commander who now works for Boeing as a Starliner program director, helped reveal the ‘Boeing Blue’ spacesuits during a Facebook live event, where he modeled the new suit.
“We slogged through some of the real engineering challenges and now we are getting to the point where those challenges are largely behind us and it’s time to get on to the rubber meeting the road,” Ferguson said.
The suits offer superior functionality, comfort and protection for astronauts who will don them when crewed Starliner flights to the space station begin as soon as next year.
At roughly half the weight (about 10 pounds vs. 20 pounds) compared to the launch-and-entry suits worn by space shuttle astronauts, crews look forward to wearing the ‘Boeing Blue’ suits.
“Spacesuits have come in different sizes and shapes and designs, and I think this fits the Boeing model, fits the Boeing vehicle,” said Chris Ferguson.
Among the advances cited are:
• Lighter and more flexible through use of advanced materials and new joint patterns
• Helmet and visor incorporated into the suit instead of detachable. The suit’s hood-like soft helmet sports a wide polycarbonate visor to give Starliner passengers better peripheral vision throughout their ride to and from space.
• A communications headset within the helmet also helps connect astronauts to ground and space crews
• Touchscreen-sensitive gloves that allow astronauts to interact with the capsule’s tablets screens overhead
• Vents that allow astronauts to be cooler, but can still pressurize the suit immediately
• Breathable, slip resistant boots
• Zippers in the torso area will make it easier for astronauts to comfortably transition from sitting to standing
• Innovative layers will keep astronauts cooler
“The most important part is that the suit will keep you alive,” astronaut Eric Boe said, in a statement. “It is a lot lighter, more form-fitting and it’s simpler, which is always a good thing. Complicated systems have more ways they can break, so simple is better on something like this.”
The astronauts help the designers to perfect the suits very practically by wearing them inside Starliner mock-ups, moving around to accomplish tasks, reaching for the tablets screens, and climbing in and out of the capsule repeatedly, says Boe “so they can establish the best ways for astronauts to work inside the spacecraft’s confines.”
“The spacesuit acts as the emergency backup to the spacecraft’s redundant life support systems,” said Richard Watson, subsystem manager for spacesuits for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
“If everything goes perfectly on a mission, then you don’t need a spacesuit. It’s like having a fire extinguisher close by in the cockpit. You need it to be effective if it is needed.”
Boe is one of four NASA astronauts that form the core cadre of astronauts training for the initial flight tests aboard either the Boeing Starliner or SpaceX Crew Dragon now under development as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew program.
The inaugural flight tests are slated to begin in 2018 under contract to NASA.
The procedure on launch day will be similar to earlier manned launches. For Starliner, however, the capsule will launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket – currently being man-rated.
Astronauts will don the new ‘Boeing Blue’ suit in the historic Crew Quarters. The will ride out to the rocket inside an astrovan. After reaching Space Launch Complex 41, they will take the elevator up, stride across the recently installed Crew Access Arm and board Starliner as it stands atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
The first test flight will carry a crew of two. Soon thereafter the crew size will grow to four when regular crew rotation flights to the ISS starting as soon as 2019.
“To me, it’s a very tangible sign that we are really moving forward and we are a lot closer than we’ve been,” Ferguson said. “The next time we pull all this together, it might be when astronauts are climbing into the actual spacecraft.”
Boeing is currently manufacturing the Starliner spacecraft at the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.
So far, every spacesuit humans have utilized has been designed with a specific mission and purpose in mind. As of yet, there’s been no universal or “perfect” spacesuit that would fit every need. For example, the US ACES “pumpkin” suits and the Russian Sokol are only for launch and reentry and can’t be used for spacewalks. And the Apollo A7L suits were designed with hard soled boots for astronauts to walk on the Moon, while the current NASA EMU and the Russian Orlan are designed for use in space, but with soft soled booties so as not to damage the exterior of the space station.
What would constitute the perfect spacesuit that could be used for any mission? It would have to be lightweight while being impervious to rips, impacts and radiation, but also be flexible, fit multiple sizes, and be comfortable enough to be worn for long periods of time.
With those specifications in mind, is it possible to create the perfect spacesuit?
“Designing a spacesuit turns into a battle between protection and mobility,” said NASA astronaut trainer Robert Frost in an article on Quora. “The more we try to protect the wearer, the less mobile they become. The more mobile we make them, the less protected they are.”
The perfect spacesuit would be, to quote Elon Musk, “badass.”
That’s the terminology the SpaceX used in negotiations with suit-making companies to create the pressure suit for SpaceX’s future commercial passengers. SpaceX is now designing their own suit, and Musk said SpaceX is looking for not just utility but esthetics, too.
“It needs to both look like a 21st-century space suit and work well,” he said during a reddit AMA.
But even with SpaceX’s ‘badass’ suit, they are designing with one purpose in mind.
And there are obstacles to having a “badass space suit design,” wrote Eric Sofge in an article in Popular Science. “A launch-entry suit is ungainly, an oversize one-piece embedded with rigid interfaces for the helmet and gloves, and enough room to inflate, basketball-like, when pressurized—especially in the seat, so an astronaut isn’t forced to stand up.”
One of the best hopes on the horizon is a “shrink-wrap” type of spacesuit that MIT has been developing. It is a lightweight, form-fitting, flexible spacesuit — a la Seven of Nine on Star Trek: Voyager— lined with tiny, muscle like coils.
“With conventional spacesuits, you’re essentially in a balloon of gas that’s providing you with the necessary one-third of an atmosphere [of pressure,] to keep you alive in the vacuum of space,” said one of the developers, Dava Newman. “We want to achieve that same pressurization, but through mechanical counterpressure — applying the pressure directly to the skin, thus avoiding the gas pressure altogether. We combine passive elastics with active materials. … Ultimately, the big advantage is mobility, and a very lightweight suit for planetary exploration.”
MIT is using a nickel-titanium shape-memory alloy and they are continuing to test ideas. Some problems with this suit include the difficulty of putting on such a tight suit in a zero-gravity environment and how a gas-pressurized helmet can be connected to the compression-pressurized suit.
NASA recently revealed the winner of a public-voted spacesuit design called the Z-2. While it looks a bit like Buzz Lightyear’s fictional suit, it has bearings in the joints that make more flexible than NASA’s current EMU. It also has a rear-entry port, allowing it to be docked to the side of a mobile transporter or habitat, essentially turning the suit into its own air lock. This helps to avoid bringing in abrasive soil and dust such as lunar regolith Martian soil. NASA is currently testing the Z-2 prototype with plans to develop a better suit, the Z-3. If it works well, the Z-3 might be used in a space walk from the International Space Station by 2017.
So, still, the perfect spacesuit eludes us.
But here are some other additions that would make the perfect spacesuit:
Self-healing: Currently, having multiple layers is the best way to defend against rips or tears, which can be fatal in the vacuum of space. But MIT’s body suit would utilize mechanical counterpressure to counteract a rip, and engineers at ILC Dover are looking into integrating self-healing materials, such as polymers embedded with microencapsulated chemicals that would create a foam to heal a torn suit.
Better gloves: gloves have been one of the hardest things to design in spacesuits. Making a glove that is both flexible and protective is a challenge. Astronaut Duane Carey compared spacewalks to trying to fix your car while wearing winter mittens. Astronauts have had skin rubbed until it bleeds and have lost fingernails because of how the current gloves wear. NASA is constantly working on better gloves.
Augmented Vision: Currently, NASA’s polycarbonate helmets could be confused with fishbowls. One material that could be used for future helmets is a clear ceramic called ALON, which is thinner than bulletproof glass and three times as strong. Another addition could be an internal heads-up display — like ones used by F-16 pilots – to provide data and information.
A better cooling system: Current suits have “underwear” with about 300 feet of plastic tubing that circulate waters to draw away body heat. Purdue University engineers are developing a polymer using glass fibers coated with thermoelectric nanocrystals that absorb heat and discharge electricity.
Artificial Gravity: Remember the magnetic boots worn in Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country and Star Trek: Insurrection? The University of Massachusetts is developing a dry adhesive that could help astronauts and those pesky floating tools to “stick” to surfaces. It is made of a carbon fiber weave and mimics the skin and tendon structure of gecko feet. Another idea — while not quite the same – is a way to counter muscle and bone atrophy in zero-G: Draper Labs are developing gyroscopes the could be attached to the arms and legs of spacesuits that could provide resistance similar to the force of gravity on Earth.
Long-life Battery Power: One issue for long spacewalks is having enough battery power. Michigan Tech is developing units that can convert movement into electricity. Also, Elon Musk might have some ideas for long-lasting batteries…
So, while many entities are working on ideas and concepts, the perfect spacesuit has yet to be developed. If humans are going to go to an asteroid, back to the Moon, to Mars or on a mission to deep space, we’ll need a suit as close to perfect as possible.