Draper/MIT Space Suits Could Enable Asteroid Exploration, Satellite Repairs

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Engineers at Draper and MIT are collaborating with NASA to develop specialized suits that could enable astronauts to explore asteroids and repair satellites, as well as make it easier for them to live and work in and around space stations.

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A Draper engineer tests spacesuit technology at Johnson Space Center’s Virtual Reality Laboratory.

Astronauts conducting extravehicular activities (EVAs, or spacewalks) risk floating away if they do many of the things that are taken for granted on Earth, such as turning a wrench while servicing a satellite, or digging with a shovel during exploration.

Engineers at Draper and MIT are collaborating with NASA to develop specialized suits that could enable astronauts to explore asteroids and repair satellites, as well as make it easier for them to live and work in and around space stations.

Astronauts conducting extravehicular activities (EVAs, or spacewalks) risk floating away if they do many of the things that are taken for granted on Earth, such as turning a wrench while servicing a satellite, or digging with a shovel during exploration. While their current spacesuits include a jetpack that can take them back to their position on the International Space Station should they float away, a free-floating suited astronaut is not able to counteract the forces and torques that are generated during spacewalking tasks, something that gravity handles here on Earth

Incorporating Control Moment Gyroscopes (CMGs) on an external spacesuit’s jetpack would keep the astronauts stable by adding attitude control to offset torques and forces and increase range of motion, said Bobby Cohanim, Draper’s Mission Design Group leader.

Servicing on operational satellites has required tethering onto the space shuttle for stability, but a spacesuit based on this technology could enable astronauts to rendezvous with the spacecraft and make repairs in free space. Using the CMGs would conserve propellant in the jetpacks, reducing mass and extending potential exploration time.

Draper and MIT hope to test the jetpack and CMG system in the Virtual Reality Laboratory at NASA’s Johnson Space Center this summer. The project is funded internally at Draper with focused collaboration with MIT and NASA Johnson Space Center.

Draper is also developing wearable modules that use CMGs to simulate the resistance of gravity to improve astronaut performance while living and working inside a space vehicle or space station.

Simulating the effects of gravity with the Variable Vector Countermeasure suit is especially important because it could help astronauts adapt to new gravity environments, or offset the effects of prolonged weightlessness on the human body, like muscle and bone loss, said Kevin Duda, Draper’s principal investigator on the V2Suit.

There is no gravitational down in space, so the researchers are developing algorithms for tracking the module orientation and velocity with respect to a specified direction of “down.” An astronaut will be able to specify their orientation and which direction the simulated force of gravity acts. This work is currently a Phase II project funded by NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC).

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