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Well Suited for Space

Former shuttle astronaut, Jeffrey Hoffman, shows off the stylish S3. Credit: Aurora Flight Sciences/MIT

A low-profile, lightweight, space suit simulator has been delivered to NASA, designed to meet the space agency’s research and training needs.

Aurora Flight Sciences headquartered in Manassas, Virginia has collaborated with MIT experts to create an exoskeleton to simulate wearing a space suit – but without all the wear and tear and related issues of donning/doffing and working in actual outer space wear.

The reason?

Pressurized space suits impose high joint torques on the astronaut, reducing mobility for upper and lower body motions. Because of the highly altered mobility capabilities and metabolic cost of movement when wearing a space suit, it is necessary for suits to be worn during many aspects of astronaut training and ground-based research.

Using actual space suits is problematic due to the expense, bulk, weight in Earth’s gravity, and difficulty in donning/doffing.

That’s why the Space Suit Simulator (S3) was designed to provide high-fidelity emulation of NASA’s Extra-Vehicular Mobility Unit, the EMU.

Active control

“An astronaut experiences resistance from the space suit primarily in his or her joints, such as the knees, hips, and shoulders. We have developed an exoskeleton that includes actively controlled resistive elements at each of the lower body joints,” explains Jessica Duda, Aurora’s Principal Investigator for the project.

“By using active control, we are also able to calibrate the joint torques for current or future space suits,” Duda adds. The current EMU requires very high metabolic costs (fatigue and calories burned) due to the energy required to bend the pressurized limbs.

Future suit designs

Future suit designs will focus on reducing joint torques. The S3 provides a means of measuring the metabolic costs of various joint torque configurations to aid in developing an optimized design, according to an Aurora-issued press statement.

The S3 is a collaborative output from Aurora, working with MIT’s Dava Newman and former shuttle astronaut, Jeffrey Hoffman, of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, as well as Professor Grant Schaffner from the University of Cincinnati.

Aurora tested each of the joint concepts on an anthropometric robot with instrumented joints and verified the torques provided by each of the joints. The completed S3 is adjustable for human subjects up to 95th percentile male and is expected to be used in university field trials this summer.

By Leonard David

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