Analogue Space Suits for Simulated Mars EVA: Concepts and Development

James Waldie, RMIT University, Melbourne &

Natalie Cutler, BAE Systems

 

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Abstract: The requirements for a manned mission to Mars have been recognised as distinctly different from previous space missions, as establishing and sustaining a presence on the planet is a significantly new technical challenge. Achieving the scientific research and exploration goals of the mission presents further logistical and technical hurdles.

One of the issues that must be addressed is the inadequacy of current space suit technology for Mars EVA. The general nature of extra-vehicular activities required on Mars can be predicted – astronauts must be able to perform extended, physically demanding tasks such as habitat construction and scientific exploration. The rigorous and prolonged nature of such activities requires a more flexible, lightweight and robust space suit than the current gas-pressurised designs. The detailed space suit requirements for Mars EVA are less well understood. To further our understanding in this area, an ‘analogue’ space suit for Mars can be employed. This suit is designed to mimic the experience of wearing an EVA suit on Mars as part of simulated Mars landings conducted here on Earth. Scientists perform likely EVA tasks wearing the suit and comment on areas where their activities are impeded by the suit, and how the suit could be better designed to assist their tasks.

‘MarsSkin’ is an Australian-designed and developed analogue space suit. The MarsSkin concept is centred on the use of mechanical counter-pressure (MCP) technology. MCP uses form-fitting elastics instead of gas pressure to compress the astronaut’s body in a vacuum or low atmospheric pressure environment such as Mars. A gas-pressurised helmet is maintained for pressurisation of the head and breathing. This leads to a smaller, lighter, more flexible and durable suit at a reduced cost. In addition the MCP suit improves astronaut safety, as a suit tear results in a local defect rather than a catastrophic puncture. MCP technology, though unproven, offers the potential to better satisfy Mars EVA requirements.

Three versions of MarsSkin have been developed to date, each a refinement in design over the previous version, based on experimental research conducted in conjunction with Mars Society expeditions and designer research. MarsSkin III will be presented at AMEC. It comprises a refined two-layer suit concept with the inner ‘compression’ layer designed by Skins™. A hemispherical helmet replaces the previous design and includes a ventilation system. An ergonomic, hardshell backpack encloses the life support system to maximise astronaut mobility. Pocket design and placement have also been refined. MarsSkin III will be used during the Mars Society’s upcoming Expedition Two, with research proposed including Field of View studies, further glove research, and pocket usability.

PROFILE: James Waldie was a Research Scholar at the University of California San Diego’s Physiology Laboratory and is currently finishing his Phd in Aerospace Engineering at RMIT University. He is involved in a NASA/Honeywell project to develop experimental space suits 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 intre-vehicular 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.

PROFILE: Natalie Cutler is a mechatronics engineer, with qualifications from the University of Melbourne. After graduation Natalie joined the Boston Consulting Group as a management consultant where she provided financial analysis and strategy advice to a range of Australian businesses. After two years in this role, she returned to the aerospace engineering field, which was always here primary interest. Natalie currently works at BAE Systems Australia as a design engineer for the Nulka Navy Decoy. She is a member of Mars Society Australia and part of the MarsSkin team, working to develop an analogue space suit for Mars exploration simulations. During Expedition Two Natalie will be coordinating the testing the latest version of the MarsSkin spacesuit in the Australian Outback.