Marsskin: A Mechanical Counter Pressure Mars Analogue Space Suit

James Waldie

RMIT University

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Abstract: In an effort to study field operations for a manned landing on Mars, Mars Society Australia plans to establish research stations in Australia and Europe (in addition to those already functioning in Canada and the USA) which will simulate the habitat, equipment and landscape of the predicted mission. Space suits, therefore, must be provided in each habitat to create a realistic mimicry of Martian exploration during simulated extravehicular activity (EVA). The aim of the suits is threefold: first, to restrict the physical capabilities of the astronaut in line with that predicted of an actual suit on Mars; second, to provide the astronaut with capabilities a Mars suit would posses (such as communications and data logging hardware); and third, to study the most effective means of communication, and recording and storing collected data.

Project MarsSkin, Mars Society of Australia’s analogue suit project, is based on an experimental mechanical counter pressure (MCP) suit. This is due to the myriad benefits of MCP over existing suits and the renewed interest in MCP development; it is therefore possible that future Mars explorers will wear MCP suits. A MCP based analogue suit will also be more realistic in terms of rigidity than current analogue suits.

Project MarsSkin comprises three technical groups. The Helmet group is responsible for designing and fabricating the helmet shell in addition to incorporating ancillary items (such as lights and microphones) and enhanced vision and spatial recognition systems. The PULSS group is tasked with producing basic hardware and software for EVA operations (such as communications, cooling system and data logger) with an appropriate load carriage system. The Layers group aims to produce form-fitting MCP and dust layers to simulate current MCP garments.

PROFILE: James Waldie was a Research Scholar at the University of California San Diego's Space Physiology Laboratory, and is currently finishing his PhD in Aerospace Engineering at RMIT University. He was involved in a NASA/Honeywell project to develop experimental spacesuits made of elastics and to study any physiological effects they caused. Such elastic experimental suits could be lighter, safer and more flexible than current gas-pressurised suits, which make them ideally suited for use on Mars. He was also looking at how to make elastic intravehicular spacesuits more comfortable in space, both to function as a launch and re-entry suit, but also as a countermeasure to long duration physical deconditioning. James is also project manager for Mars Society Australia’s MarsSkin Project.