Research Underway on Quest for Optimal Spacesuit

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Over the past two years, Florida Tech’s spaceflight research has looked to advance safety, efficiency and comfort in spaceflight experience.

Those factors start with the spacesuit.

Working with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU), Florida Tech is now undertaking human testing to utilize the unique characteristic of the Florida Tech-owned spacesuit. The suit can be custom fit to the size of the person wearing it, unlike most previous space suit designs.

Currently, eight research subjects have been randomly selected from Florida Tech and ERAU. Each subject puts on the spacesuit, which is then adjusted to their comfort and to maximize suit performance. Since every subject has different body types, their motion inside the space suit is different as well, and that is key for the research: how each subject moves will give insight into how to better equip the suit and ultimately improve the interaction between the suit-wearing person and the flight deck of a spacecraft.

Wearing the spacesuit, the research subject performs moves with his or her arms as per a short training program prior to the experiment. He performs ten moves working with an instructor from ERAU while a Florida Tech spacesuit technician supports spacesuit adjustments and pressure operations.

At the same time, ERAU’s motion tracking system is recording the motion of the movement, creating a 3D motion “envelope” in both pressurized and unpressurized configurations. These envelopes differ significantly, and that is what the researchers are studying.

“When an astronaut is inside a spacecraft wearing a spacesuit, her/his motion and reach will differ in the pressurized and unpressurized configuration of the suit. Whether astronauts wear pressurized or unpressurized suits on the flight phase depends on the flight phase or scenario, such as launch, atmospheric entry or emergency,” said Ondrej Doule, director of Florida Tech’s Human Spaceflight Lab. “We are looking for information that will help us with the flight desk design that can ensure the astronaut can reach and use the vehicle controls at any time and in any flight phase.”

In early 2017, Florida Tech acquired a functional spacesuit from Final Frontier Design of Brooklyn, N.Y., for use in developing a universal cockpit specifically for space tourism. The garment is called an intra-vehicular activity, or IVA, suit, and it would be worn inside the vehicle during mission-critical events such as launch, reentry and landing. The IVA suit provides a contained, head-to-toe pressurized environment that protects the body from any loss of cabin pressure. Unlike spacesuits used by NASA astronauts, Florida Tech’s suit is more utilitarian than bespoke. The suit is made using advanced techniques and is much lighter than usual suits. It is also adjustable and can be worn more than once and by more than one person.

Florida Tech was one of just three universities nationwide to have a spacesuit of this type.

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