Credit: Untethered spacewalker, Bruce McCandless.
Credit: NASA

“Lost in space” – a scenario no astronaut wants to face.

Thanks to new spacesuit engineering work, a patent has been filed for a self-return system to ensure space explorers are safe, even if no other astronaut can rescue them.

This spacesuit comes with a “take me home” button.

Self-return

Kevin Duda, a space systems engineer at The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has studied astronauts and life on the International Space Station habitat.

The self-return space suit system, Duda explains, had to be capable of determining a precise location in a harsh space environment where GPS is unavailable. It had to compute an optimal return trajectory that accounts for time, oxygen consumption, safety and clearance requirements, and it had to be able to guide a disoriented and possibly unconscious astronaut effectively to safety.

Take me home

Draper’s director of space systems, Séamus Tuohy, said the return-home technology is an advance in spacesuits that is long overdue. “The current spacesuit features no automatic navigation solution—it is purely manual—and that could present a challenge to our astronauts if they are in an emergency.”

According to the patent, Draper’s “take me home” system can be configured to monitor movement, acceleration and relative position of the crewmember to a fixed object, such as an accompanying orbiting spacecraft.

Data fusion

The navigation, guidance and control modules can also accommodate various scenarios. For instance, the navigation module can be configured using GPS, vision- aided navigation or a star-tracker system.

Patent: Inventors Kevin R. Duda, Richard W. Loffi, Patrick Mark Handley. Credit: United States Patent Application Publication/Pub. No.: US 2017/0192425 A1
Duda et al. 

Additionally, to improve the astronaut’s positioning and orientation, Draper has developed software that fuses data from vision-based and inertial navigation systems and benefits from the advantages of both sensing approaches.

The current research into spacesuits is funded by NASA.

Down to Earth

Draper’s “take me home” system can also be of benefit down here on Earth.

For example, clothing equipped with sensors and other smart tech could serve as an added safety measure for first responders and firefighters as they navigate smoke-filled rooms. The spacesuit work could also assist skydivers hurtling toward Earth and scuba divers who might become disoriented in deep water.

To view the patent, “System and method for assisted extravehicular activity self-return,” go to:

https://patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/d9/4d/9e/a0d0311b0386e0/US20170192425A1.pdf

 

 

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