NASA is very focused on sending people to the lunar surface by 2024, and these astronauts will need space suits to do their job – suits the space agency does not have at the moment. A company with decades of experience in NASA space suits claims to have an ensemble that could be operational on the scheduled deadline of the agency.
Last week, Collins Aerospace unveiled a prototype Next Generation Space Suit system for use on lunar surface tours. On Thursday, July 25, a model demonstrated how easy it is to walk in a suit by trotting around the lobby of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC, climbing a few steps up and down. The company claims that the suit is about half the size of the original Apollo spacesuits. It should also be much more flexible and able to accommodate a wide range of body types, from small lunar to more than two meters tall.
Collins Aerospace has built space suits for NASA in the past. The company, working with its longtime partner ILC Dover, has built both the suits and the connected life support systems currently used by astronauts on the International Space Station. Now NASA's two companies want to show that they have something the agency can use for their moon-bound Artemis program.
"We have preliminary talks with [NASA] says Allen Flynt, vice president and general manager of space systems at Collins Aerospace, The Verge . "You know we worked on it, the approach we follow is that we are not competing with NASA, we want to support them."
Faced with NASA's great efforts to return to the Moon, it was There is great skepticism that the agency will be able to provide all the necessary hardware over the next five years, and NASA has been vocal about the missile, lander, and space station that it will have to develop by 2024 to achieve that goal Space suits details, and there was concern that these equipment would not be ready in time for the Artemis astronauts to cross the lunar surface until 2024.
Before NASA consolidated the Artemis program, a report from The Inspector General NASA announced that the space agency was faced with the challenge of developing new space suits for future space missions The problem stemmed from the fact that NASA did not know exactly where it was sending people. Now it is clear that NASA is going to the moon fast and the agency has to start with new moon suits as soon as possible.
Recently, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine revealed NASA's tentative plans for developing suits. The agency hopes to be able to test parts of their suits by 2020 on the ISS. And he wants the suits to work in multiple locations. "We're looking at a space suit architecture that's flexible and can be used in both orbits and the moon," Bridenstine told the Senate Commerce Committee on July 1
Collins claims his suit fits this bill perfectly, as the outfit can be modified for any place in space. "You can swap components in your suit, like your arms and legs, to make it more mobile. And that depends on the target, "says Flynt.
In a microgravity environment like the International Space Station, it is less necessary for a suit to bend at the waist and mobile legs. Weightless suits can afford to be a little heavier because astronauts do not have to carry weight on their shoulders. But on the moon, the mobility of the lower body is obviously the key, as astronauts have to walk on the surface and bend down to pick up samples. And although the moon has the gravity of one-sixth of the earth, moon runners will definitely feel the weight of a spacesuit more than in weightlessness.
The next generation space suit system is said to have all the mobility required for a lunar environment in a relatively light frame. A control box on the chest containing the electronics for the suit is much smaller than previous suits. Anyone who wears the suit can also turn around at the hips, which the Apollo astronauts did not have. That limited the way they could walk on the moon, and it made it harder to recover when they fell over. "They would see the [Apollo] crews bounce and hop on the lunar surface, which involves considerable risk," says Dan Burbank, senior technology fellow at Collins Aerospace and retired NASA astronaut, The Verge . "This is built-in to have the shelter that allows for this natural gait we consider critical mobility."
There is flexibility in who can use the suit. The Apollo suits have been tailored for each crew member, but Collins says this suit can be reworked to suit as many body types as possible. This type of accommodation is currently not fully available on the ISS. Recently, NASA had to postpone its first all-female spacewalk, when it turned out that the agency did not have the right suits on the station. "We're not small in size or extra small in size, so there's a relatively large range of smaller female crew members, for example, who are not well accommodated by the spacesuits we've got," he says. "The novelty of this suit is that it has a hybrid design in the upper body area, so that two basic designs can accommodate the first to 99th percentile – the widest possible range."
The cost of Collins' space suit has not yet been released as high, and Flynt will only say that it is a "very competitive price". At the moment, the company is focused only on demonstrating the technology. "To advance packaging and some technologies, as well as the portable life support system, we need about a year of additional development," says Burbank. It is planned to build a fully functional system within the next 12 to 18 months.
It remains to be seen if this is enough to attract attention from NASA, but Collins remains confident.
"We believe this gives us a good edge, which would otherwise be a long way from a clean sheet of paper," says Burbank. "To build a space suit, you build a human-shaped spaceship."
Photograph by Loren Grush / The Verge