The MIT BioSuit is a skintight spacesuit that offers improved mobility and reduced mass.  Credit: Photo-illustration: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT

The MIT BioSuit is a skintight spacesuit that offers improved mobility and reduced mass.
Credit: Photo-illustration: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT

 

It’s a tight fit – but if you’re sauntering around on Mars that’s a fashion statement.

Space designers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are stitching together plans for shrink-wrapping spacesuits. So much so that spacesuits of the future may resemble a streamlined second skin.

The MIT BioSuit is a skintight spacesuit that offers improved mobility and reduced mass compared to modern gas-pressurized spacesuits.

The skintight, pressurized suit would not only support the astronaut, but would give the space traveler much more freedom to move during planetary exploration.

To take the suit off, the wearer would only have to apply modest force, returning the suit to its looser form.

A flyable first: second skin

Master space suit designer at MIT is Dava Newman, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems researchers.

She and her colleagues are one step closer to engineering an active, “second-skin” spacesuit: active compression garments that incorporate small, spring-like coils that contract in response to heat. The coils are made from a shape-memory alloy – a type of material that “remembers” an engineered shape and, when bent or deformed, can spring back to this shape when heated.

The idea is that an astronaut may don a lightweight, stretchy garment, lined with tiny, muscle-like coils. That person would then plug in to a spacecraft’s power supply, triggering the coils to contract and essentially shrink-wrap the garment around the person’s body.

Close-up view of a 3-D-printed shape memory alloy (SMA) cartridge that packs 24 SMA actuators into a 1-inch-wide structure designed specifically for active compression garments. Photo: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT

Close-up view of a 3-D-printed shape memory alloy (SMA) cartridge that packs 24 SMA actuators into a 1-inch-wide structure designed specifically for active compression garments.
Photo: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT

Mobility for planetary exploration

The coil design was conceived by Bradley Holschuh, a postdoc in Newman’s MIT lab.

“Ultimately, the big advantage is mobility, and a very lightweight suit for planetary exploration,” said Newman in a MIT press statement.

According to Holschuh , while the suit team is concentrating mostly on applications in space, the suit design and active materials may be used for other purposes, such as in athletic wear or military uniforms.

This research was funded by NASA and the MIT Portugal Program.

The MIT Portugal Program is an international collaboration seeking to demonstrate that an investment in science, technology and higher education can have a positive, lasting impact on the economy by addressing key societal issues through quality education and research in the emerging field of engineering systems.

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