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DIY Space Suit Testing

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the make-it-alien-proof dept.

Space 37

Kristian von Bengtson is one of the founders of Copenhagen Suborbitals, a private organization dedicated to cheap, manned spaceflight. He says, 'This week the space suit branch of Copenhagen Suborbitals from the U.S. is visiting and testing suits in capsules is being performed." The testing process is being chronicled in a series of articles at Wired. You can take a look at some images of getting suited up, and read about the process in detail. von Bengtson writes, "I have to say this suit is incredible, and wearing it today was a remarkable experience. Not only did it fit like a neatly tailored jacket, you instantly become very aware of isolation, the risks involved in this mission, and the complexity of the suit when the 'visor down' command is effectuated. Even though you have a bunch of people next to you – operating life support and with cameras – you feel all alone and all sounds disappear. They’re replaced by the hissing of the breathing-gas and pressure-gas." There's another article about getting into and out of the capsule while in the space suit, which is quite a complicated procedure. "All three of us tried to perform the fast egress and this was a very intense experience. While pressurized inside the capsule (app 1 psi) arms and legs want to expand your body like a balloon and even just reaching out toward the hatch opening was almost impossible. Each of us spend at least 30-50 seconds on this procedure desperately trying to reach toward anything nearby, feet and leg kicking and general nonsense body-wobbling. A simple procedure like this required all the power and muscle we had while John Haslett tried to keep up with dumping CO2 and adding breathing gas."

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ground control calling Major Tom (0)

Thud457 (234763) | about a year ago | (#44657045)

There really are easier ways to go about suffocating yourself.

They're far from simple (4, Informative)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about a year ago | (#44657055)

Spacesuits are a lot more complicated than they look, NASA's suits have a lot of sealed bearings and straps and bellows below the surface to allow easy movement and reduce the ballooning effect: []

Why a suit at all? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44657599)

Is there some overriding reason why the suit has to be a SUIT, and not some kind of space can? Decades of NASA research has gone into current suits, and all reports indicate people still hate wearing them.

Why not a one-man minispaceship instead? It'd make almost every aspect of suit design far simpler, from A/C to packing a sandwich for lunch. Hell, you could even smoke in it if the air processing was good enough.

Re:Why a suit at all? (2)

ThreeKelvin (2024342) | about a year ago | (#44657707)

Mass to orbit is horribly expensive, every kg counts.

A "mini space ship" might not be much heavier than a space suit, but it'd have to fit inside the main space ship, which would then be heavier.

Re:Why a suit at all? (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about a year ago | (#44662573)

but it'd have to fit inside the main space ship

Why? One of the advantages of a "ship-suit" is that it can remain outside the main capsule or module's pressure-vessel, even easier than a "hard suit" since there are less moving parts to service.

Re:Why a suit at all? (1)

ThreeKelvin (2024342) | about a year ago | (#44662673)

The suit Cameron and Co. are building isn't for extra vehicular activity. It's a second, redundant layer of protection for the astronaut while he's in the capsule and beeing boosted towards space - sort of like the drivers suits used on race tracks.

So, in short: Different problem, different viable solutions.

Re:Why a suit at all? (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about a year ago | (#44663321)

I was responding to the ThreeKelvin's comment, not the article. So no argument with your last line.

sort of like the drivers suits used on race tracks.

A more immediate analogy is the pressure suits used in the early "edge of space" X-plane and balloon flights, and the bail-out suits worn by post-Challenger shuttle astronauts. Very similar appearance too.

Re:Why a suit at all? (1)

ThreeKelvin (2024342) | about a year ago | (#44663481)

I'm fairly certain ThreeKelvin's original comment was in reference to the article. ;)

- And your analogy is definitly better.

Re:Why a suit at all? (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about a year ago | (#44667343)

I'm fairly certain ThreeKelvin's original comment was in reference to the article. ;)

[Facepalm] D'oh! Sorry.

I meant I was responding to what I took as more general objection to "ship-suits", ie your reply to Anon's comment, but I wasn't not saying that a ship-suit would work for the team in the article.

If your response to Anon was purely to the utility of ship-suits for this particular application, then I was doubly wrong (or triply, I'm not sure what I'm up to.)

Re:Why a suit at all? (1)

ThreeKelvin (2024342) | about a year ago | (#44671107)

If your response to Anon was purely to the utility of ship-suits for this particular application, then I was doubly wrong (or triply, I'm not sure what I'm up to.)

No worrys. I got a good smile out of it. ;)

An external "ship-suit" could perhaps be usefull in some cases, e.g. on the ISS for EVAing, but I'm not really convinced. The only reason I can think of to send an astronaut out to do something is because her hand/eye coordination and manual dexterity is required on a particular spot. (otherwise they'd just send a robot) So, the "ship-suit" would have to have sleeves and gloves with which she could manipulate objects as easily as from a normal space suit.

Tethering the astronaut would on the other hand be much simpler. Just clamp the Canada-arm onto the suit. No need for foot-fasteners and all that other fancy stuff.

It's an interresting concept, but there's a lot of engineering tradeoffs to consider before judging one of the solutions superior to the other.

Re:Why a suit at all? (1)

InfiniteLoopCounter (1355173) | about a year ago | (#44662407)

Another solution might be a force field [] to stop radiation and a method to trap air around a person like some ants do when going underwater [] . We can in theory also do wireless power transfer [] , so maybe this could provide the juice to keep a system like this going on a backpack like device you could use in space, Mars, titan, or any other sufficiently low g environment that you could move on. Wonder why sci-fi doesn't do this much?

Re:They're far from simple (2)

TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) | about a year ago | (#44657831)

NASA makes things 1000 times more complicated than they need to be. Its why a space toilet seat costs $100k to manufacture and $1 billion to design, but looks like a $10 seat you can get a Home Depot. I had a friend who worked in aerospace that spent a year in R&D for a nut for the Canadarm that he would swear you could just buy at the hardware store.

Agreed that a spacesuit is slightly more complicated than a toilet seat, but private enterprise is showing they are capable to reaching space for far cheaper and less R&D time and costs than NASA has historically demonstrated so I am sure a novel and relatively simpler solution will be found.

Why build something cheap and easy when you have unlimited taxpayer money?

Re:They're far from simple (4, Informative)

Teancum (67324) | about a year ago | (#44657997)

Your so-called toilet seat in space is hardly what you think. There are a number of problems with putting an ordinary toilet in an orbital spacecraft that is in a microgravity environment, not the least of which is that water isn't found in the toilet.

Watch this video and tell me that it can be solved with a $10 seat purchased at Home Depot: []

There are also reasons why you need to spend months trying to find the right nut for a device, even if it may be something you pick up for a nickle at a local hardware store.

No doubt there is some substantial management overhead on space projects done by NASA. Just look at how much money it cost to build the Falcon 9 as opposed to the SLS (Sometimes called the Senate Launch System... comparable payloads and overall missions, and the SLS still isn't flying in spite of new incarnations that keep popping up and more money spent on them). I agree that the current culture at NASA tends to gild the lily, but it is also important to note sometimes there is increased complexity simply because stuff is happening in space. Furthermore, low production rates for stuff going into space means that you don't have economies of scale for components like you would for toilet seats purchased by people all over the world.

Besides, would you actually use a $10 toilet seat purchased at Home Depot? Those things last barely longer than it takes to screw them onto a toilet in the first place. Certainly don't turn one of those over to a bunch of teenagers, as they will destroy the thing in no time flat. Even at Home Depot there are much higher quality toilet seats to purchase, where money counts even for a mass consumer item like that.

Re:They're far from simple (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44658113)

Bah, you think the poster you are responding will read that? He probably thinks 3D printers are magic.

Re:They're far from simple (1)

nogginthenog (582552) | about a year ago | (#44658963)

In Soviet Russia they used a pencil!

Re:They're far from simple (1)

Teancum (67324) | about a year ago | (#44659363)

Yet, in Soviet Russia they didn't. They did use a ball point pen though. Graphite from pencils tends to flake off and short out contacts on switches in space and cause fires where you don't want them.

See also: []

Re:They're far from simple (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about a year ago | (#44662609)

Yet, in Soviet Russia they didn't.

From your own link:
"Both U.S. astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts initially used pencils on space flights"

Graphite from pencils

Which is why you use wax pencils.

Re:They're far from simple (1)

ComputerInsultant (722520) | about a year ago | (#44658435)

Even when you spend all the time and money to get the right nut for a device you can learn that you did not understand the load case and environment. SpaceX lost the Falcon 1 flight 1 due to the failure of a nut. []

The cost of space rated hardware is the cost to understand the load case, not the cost of the item.

Re:They're far from simple (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44660427)

NASA flies to Moon, during era when US was great.

Fat basement dwelling libertarian whines about how corporations do everything better, during era when USA is dying..

News at 11.

RAH wrote the text book on this (3, Informative)

rossdee (243626) | about a year ago | (#44657077)

Have space suit will travel

Perspective (1)

CryptoJones (565561) | about a year ago | (#44657279)

What they are doing is fairly difficult, and I just want to put what they are doing into perspective. What they are doing is akin to building an mercury program from scratch in a garage. These guys are both brilliant and passionate about this endeavor, so I expect to seem them succeed in the near future. CJ

Re:Perspective (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about a year ago | (#44662619)

so I expect to [see] them succeed in the near future.

Or die brilliantly.

Hope you're not claustrophobic.. (2)

Gman2725 (2947573) | about a year ago | (#44657343)

This reminds me of when I was considering changing from just sport diving to becoming a salvage diver. I was talking to one of my friends who does it for a living and he had one of the old MK V deep diving suits in his collection of old diving gear. I'm not normally claustrophobic, but when I tried it on, the moment they tightened the helmet down to the suit it was almost panic inducing. I've had incidents at depth before with my scuba rig, but the very idea of being that isolated and having to rely on air being pumped in from the surface while you're a couple hundred feet or more down was a terrifying thought. It's no where near as complicated as a space suit, but I imagine the experience is similar, knowing if something goes wrong it's going to take you a few minutes minimum to get back to an airlock and safety and having the visor inches from your face all the time.

just because I'm a ghoul: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44657581)

Re:just because I'm a ghoul: (1)

Gman2725 (2947573) | about a year ago | (#44657879)

At least it was an instant death. Would prefer to go like that without warning than the way those poor sailors on the Kursk that managed to make it to the aft compartment did, knowing they were screwed and unable to do anything about it because the only hatch out was jammed in place by the force of the sub hitting the bottom.

Yes But (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44657449)

Things I don't want (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44657855)

1) a cheap space suit

Read NASA's "Dressing for Altitude" (2)

zlexiss (14056) | about a year ago | (#44657869)

An excellent historical perspective (with plenty of photos) on the development of pressure suits for both aviation and space use. []

Yes, this is hard to do.

Re:Read NASA's "Dressing for Altitude" (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | about a year ago | (#44658529)

An excellent historical perspective (with plenty of photos) on the development of pressure suits for both aviation and space use. []

Yes, this is hard to do.

An awesome ebook that really details what the big problems are with spacesuits, or a pressure suit, really.

It's mobility - and it's not mobility while deflated (when you see those photos of early astronauts playing golf or baseball), but when inflated.

So much technology has been used in controlling ballooning, ensuring the helmet doesn't rise above your eyes, trying to get breathing air to where you want it, and also trying to minimize extra exertion because the suit wants to conform to the shape in which it was sewn, so every deviation costs energy.

And how trying to get zippers to seal right, or bearings that roll without leaking too much air (very hard problem), etc. etc.

It's easy to make an airtight suit. You can make one easily at home using stuff you probably already have. But make one that can keep you from sweating excessively or getting cold extremities, to allow you to move as free as possible when inflated 3-5psi above ambient, takes a lot of work.

And the first attempts were basically practically iron-maiden like devices - when deflated they were hot and uncomfortable. When inflated they were stiff and inflexible.

Physical fitness (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44658055)

There was a reason that NASA picked test pilots for the original Mercury crews. And a reason they were expected to be in top physical condition. Moving around in a pressurized suit, even one with constant volume joints, is very physically demanding. Acceleration or weightlessness makes it even more difficult. If these guys are as serious about this as they sound their astronaut better be on a extreme physical training program or he will not be up to the task.

Awesome dedication to sci/eng by enthusiasts (1)

Morgaine (4316) | about a year ago | (#44658359)

This is a really awesome example of dedication to science and engineering by enthusiasts.

They don't mention it (much), but these guys are risking their lives. It's certainly possible for all the tech safeguards and personal attention to safety to go wrong and for someone to die.

I bet the professionals will call this "unnecessarily risk", but that's not really accurate. Sure, it's money-limited, but that doesn't mean that the people involved aren't just as strongly concerned with safety as the professionals. As said in the video, "We have only one life". They do realize what's at risk.

Looking ahead, we will soon be a space-faring species, and that means that we will be going into space not only as a science experiment, which all NASA endeavors have been so far, but simply to go out there for whatever reasons we have. People need to make this technology their own, and that's what these enthusiasts are doing.

Why aren't AFRICANS doing this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44658793)

Could this be why?

Suddenly.... (1)

GeneralEmergency (240687) | about a year ago | (#44658929)

  . ...I actually feel bad for Darth Vader.


Solid spacesuits are MUCH cheaper (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44660385)

Why aren't they making those?

Space Activity Suit (1)

Dyolf Knip (165446) | about a year ago | (#44672855) []

Space suits in general and the SAS in particular are why I no longer give a rat's ass what happens to NASA. Cut their funding, Congress orders them to start launching their rockets upside-down, I couldn't care less. NASA had a working prototype of a replacement for those injurious, exhausting, and dangerous inflatable suits 40 goddamn years ago, and they flushed it down the toilet and haven't looked back since.

The future of the human race is in outer space, but NASA will have zero role in it. Giving them money would be no better than throwing it away.

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