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Glenn Technology To Aid New Space Suit Design

Venturing outside a spacecraft to conduct assembly, maintenance or emergency repairs is one of the most important activities that an astronaut performs. It is also one of the most dangerous. Astronauts must wear special clothing when executing extravehicular activities (EVA) to protect them from the harsh environment of space.

NASA employee makes adjustments to spacesuit during testing in a desert setting. NASA Glenn's capability in space flight software, power and communications is being used to develop the communications, avionics, and informatics (CAI) and power subsystems for the next-generation space suit. This effort supports the Constellation Program's EVA Systems Project, which is led by Johnson Space Center and supported by Glenn, industry and academia.

Image left: Carek inspects the CAI computer prior to a test run. Credit: NASA

"Glenn's capabilities in space flight software and avionics are a great match for the needs of EVA and the Constellation Program," said David Carek, Glenn's EVA Systems Engineering lead.

The purpose of the EVA Systems Project is to build a new space suit architecture that can be upgraded to meet future exploration mission requirements. The space suits currently used for space shuttle and International Space Station missions each weigh approximately 300 pounds and require 24 hours of preparation and maintenance time for every 8-hour period of EVA. Advancements over the current suit design are needed to provide improved functionality, reliability and productivity, while decreasing mass, astronaut workload and operating costs.

CAI Subsystems

Glenn is investigating new CAI subsystems that allow transmission and reception of voice and data communications among crew members, mission control and ground operations personnel. Subsystems being studied and/or developed at Glenn include computer and in-helmet electronic displays that provide data and procedures to the crew.

Suit avionics systems must manage and conserve the limited supply of consumable resources, such as oxygen, water and power. Glenn is now developing a tool called the Portable Unit for Metabolic Analysis (PUMA), which measures the metabolic rate of crew members during various EVA activities and allows researchers to evaluate the data.

Various studies are underway at Glenn to determine the requirements of more autonomous information systems that will allow the astronauts to manage their own work more efficiently.

Power Subsystems

To support an increase in the frequency and duration of EVAs for future exploration missions, power systems with long run time and fast recharge are necessary to ensure efficient performance. The power system needs advanced lightweight energy storage systems and must be capable of safely operating in the harsh environments of space by tolerating radiation, dust and large temperature variations.

Glenn's development of the Electrical Power Subsystem involves defining top-level power requirements and determining an appropriate power subsystem architecture for development. Trade studies are conducted as required to address specific issues and guide design technology selections. Near-term technology assessment efforts are focused on evaluating state-of-the-art battery cell and fuel cell hardware with the potential to meet EVA requirements.

"Glenn is very fortunate to be part of the next-generation space suit development," said Carek. "Performing EVAs is what space exploration is all about."

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Emily Groh & Deborah Sedlak
NASA's Glenn Research Center