Intelligent garments for sports and moon walks
After more than four decades, the moon is back into the spotlight. Space agencies worldwide regard it as a proper destination for both robotic missions and human explorers. Relying on the success of the International Space Station partnership, the space community sees the Moon as a springboard to continue human exploration of the Solar System, with Mars as the next goal. With this growing popularity of the moon, the focus is not just on spacecraft to take men and women to the moon, but on special suits that give protection in those environments as well.
In this article, Maria José Leaño informs you about intelligent garments for moon expeditions.
During my research for this article on intelligent clothing, I came to realize that most ‘cutting-edge’ developments were created by the war industry, which was quite an unsettling thought. The only positive thing about those developments is that many designs that were created for war are applied elsewhere, such as in biomedical engineering, scientific research, sports and spacesuits. Today, extra-terrestrial research, which started as a competition between nations, has become a joint enterprise to get both men and women of all races and nationalities into space.
Why the moon?
NASA has announced that they will have astronauts on the lunar South Pole by 2024. They are planning to have them stay there for further investigation and to set up a place from where to start the following journey to Mars. At the same time, ESA is teaming up with international partners, the private sector and industry to return humans to earth’s natural satellite. On its website, ESA states that ‘the return to the Moon envisages a series of human missions starting in the early 2020s that would see astronauts interact from orbit with robots on the lunar surface. Robots will land first, paving the way for human explorers.’
ESA also states: “One reason for this renewed interest in the Moon is the hunt for lunar resources. Scientists and engineers are looking in particular for frozen volatiles including water ice, known to lie concealed within permanent shadows at the lunar poles. In addition, building a radio telescope on the far side would shield it from radio emissions from earth, allowing clearer images and letting us peer deeper into the outer reaches of our Universe.”
To make this dream come true, not only spacecraft to take men and women to the moon would be necessary, but special suits to protect those men and women from the environment as well. In a very extreme way, moon trips are comparable to when the body is exposed to extreme conditions such as climbing great heights, walking through a desert, going to the bottom of the sea or even practising sports.
Our bodies are adjusted to the conditions of life on earth. We breathe and walk around comfortably, we can find food and water and can even digest our food without much trouble. But in outer space none of what we take for granted is possible.
Did you know that our blood evaporates in a vacuum? And that without the atmosphere, the solar radiation and micrometeoroids would destroy our bodies? On the surface of the moon it can be as hot as 250 °C and as cold as minus 250° C. In order to survive in space, special spacesuits need to be developed that replace the conditions of earth for us.
Dava Newman, aerospace engineer at MIT says: “A spacesuit is really the world’s smallest spacecraft. The design challenge is how to miniaturize all its functions and put them right around a person.” This would be almost the same as taking with you a miniaturized planet earth that makes it possible to live and feel comfortable.
LEA and EVA suits
In order to be able to travel into space, astronauts need at least two spacesuits: a LEA (Launch, Entry and Abort) suit and an EVA (Extravehicular Activity) suit. The LEA suit protects the astronaut during the critical mission stages of traveling into space, which are when landing, returning home or, in case of an emergency, when having to stay inside the spacecraft. The EVA (Extravehicular Activity) suit protects the astronaut when outside the spacecraft. This suit is used for floating in space or for walking on extra-terrestrial surfaces and is also known as an EMU (Extravehicular Mobility Unit). Even though these suits serve the same purposes, the specific designs of the suits vary among the various space agencies.
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On 15 October 2019, NASA unveiled the OCSS (Orion Crew Survival suit), the next generation of spacesuits that humans will wear to the Moon on NASA’s Artemis Program. This suit helps astronauts to survive in Orion, the deep-space capsule that will transport them to and from the Moon. The xEMU, (the x stands for ‘Exploration’) will be used on the Moon’s surface. In essence, the xEMU is an upgraded and improved version of the EMU that was used in the late 1970s.
OCSS is designed to keep the astronauts safe inside the Orion vehicle and is to be worn during launch and re-entry. The suit is designed to protect astronauts from potential failures of the Orion. It can hold pressure and can keep the astronauts alive in a depressurized system, enough for them to get back home and get back on the ground. OCSS is generally hooked with an umbilical cord to the Orion’s life support system, to feed the astronauts and give them oxygen. It protects astronauts from fire, smoke and contamination. It is integrated with the seat to give protection during landing. Should there be a crash, the suit and the seat will protect the astronauts physically.
Because the Orion is a water-landing vehicle, the colour of OCSS is bright orange to make it easier for search and rescue crews to find the astronauts. It is designed for crew safety and protection in all eventualities in the spacecraft.
Chris Hansen, manager of the Extravehicular Activity Office, talks about the next generation of spacesuits that will be used during the Artemis Program:
“The EMU is a beautiful machine. It has worked really well for us. But there are some features in that suit that we definitely want to change. One of those is we want to make it safer. We want it to have fewer failure modes.”
The XEMU has an inner layer to keep the body’s functions stable and an outer layer that insulates the suit occupant, preventing heat loss and that shields from harmful solar radiation. This outer layer gives protection from micrometeoroids and other orbital debris that might puncture the suit and depressurize it. These functions are the same as the functions provided for the spacecraft by the MMOD (Micrometeoroid and Orbital Debris) Protection systems.
The inner liner is composed by a LCVG (Liquid Cooling and Ventilation Garment) with tubes of cooling water being continuously pumped around the body to maintain a constant body temperature. Furthermore, it includes a pressure garment bladder made of urethane-coated nylon, a restraint layer cover made of Dacron and a TMG (Thermal Micrometeoroid Garment) that consists of a liner made of neoprene-coated nylon ripstop. The inner liner also includes an innermost layer of protection from micrometeoroids.
On top of these inner layers are insulation layers made of aluminized PET film or Mylar that alternate with layers of nonwoven Dacron providing thermal spacing. They are followed by two layers of aluminized polyimide Kapton film (insulating material resistant to high pressure and high temperatures) and a Beta cloth marquisette laminate for protection against radiation. Most of those materials are well-known and used today in everyday life in our homes, for sports and in medicine.
The outer layer consists of an ortho fabric made with a blend of Gore-Tex, Kevlar and Nomex that can withstand temperatures from minus 184.4° to 149° C. The outermost layer is made of PTFE (Teflon)-coated filament Beta cloth, which is non-flammable and provides abrasion protection from the lunar dust. This outer layer provides both micrometeoroid and thermal protection, reflecting most of the sun’s thermal radiation.
The traveler has a display and control module in a box in the front of the suit to interact with the suit. This control module has a temperature control valve that affects how much cooling water is going to the cooling system and switches to turn on pumps and fans to adjust the comfort levels of the crews inside. The system is significantly small and gives the crew messages about the suit status.
The XEMU has a very high-tech portable life support system inside a backpack. A spacesuit weighs approximately 280 pounds on the ground without the astronaut but when in the microgravity environment of space the spacesuit will weigh nothing. The current systems are gas-pressurized shells. The helmet is hemispherical to have a wide vision range.
As may be guessed, an xEMU consists of many pieces that take several minutes and extra help to put on. It is bulky and doesn’t give enough freedom to the astronaut during planetary exploration. For these reasons, NASA, together with a team of MIT specialists led by Dava Newman, has developed a new concept for space travel. The Bio-Suit System provides astronauts with a skin-tight garment that uses elastic tension rather than gas to achieve pressurization.
The Bio-Suit System
The Bio-Suit-System is an active compression garment that incorporates small, spring-like coils, which contract in response to heat. The coils are made from a shape-memory alloy (SMA) that ‘remembers’ an engineered shape when heated and, when bent or deformed, springs back to its original shape.
The intention is to offer a simplified version of the existing life-support systems. The new system is designed as a set of pattern lines that correspond to the body’s lines of non-extension, or the lines where the skin doesn’t extend when the body moves. It creates an exoskeleton that supports the body while giving it maximum flexibility. The prototypes are close to achieving one third of the pressure exerted by the earth’s atmosphere, needed in space.
To put the suit on, the astronaut gets into the lightweight garment and then plugs it to a spacecraft’s power supply. This power supply produces heat, triggering the coils to contract and shrink-wrap around the body. To take the suit off, the astronaut only has to apply modest force to return the suit to its looser form. The next challenge is finding a way to keep the suit tight.
While the researchers are mainly concentrating on applications in space, these active materials may be used for other purposes, such as in athletic wear, physiotherapy or biomedical applications. An integrated suit with sensors could enhance human performance. it could, for instance, tourniquet you in the event of injury without you even having to think about it.
Stitch & Print International appears four times a year. In addition free digital EMagazines and newsletters are published. The trade journal is written for professional embroiderers, textile printers (screen printers and digital printers) and garment decorators.
Stitch & Print International appears four times a year in print. In addition free digital EMagazines and newsletters are published.
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