Collins conducts tests of a new space suit for the space station
WASHINGTON – Collins Aerospace, a NASA award-winning company developing a new generation of spacesuits, has completed a series of tests of this design in the microgravity environment on board an aircraft.
The company, which won the Extravehicular Exploration Services (xEVAS) contract from NASA in 2022, said last week that it had completed tests called the Crew Capability Evaluation. These tests examined the ability of the person wearing the suit to perform tasks that an astronaut might perform during a spacewalk outside the International Space Station.
These tests were performed on an aircraft flying with parabolic arcs allowing minimal gravity for 15 to 25 seconds at a time. That means breaking down an activity “into its essential parts” that can be done during that period, Danny Olivas, a former NASA astronaut who is now a test astronaut at Collins, said in an interview.
Examples of such tasks include entering and exiting an airlock hatch, attaching suit boots to a footrest, and manipulating connectors, he said. “What we were looking for was validation of the design we had put forward,” he said. “This design solution truly allows for a full range of motion through the work envelope for which the suit is designed.”
Collins planned two-day trips to complete about 20 test objectives, but he managed to accomplish them all in one day, he said. The second day was then used to perform additional engineering evaluations on the suit.
The company is working on a suit intended to replace the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) spacesuits currently used on the International Space Station under a mission order that Collins won in December 2022. Collins says its design is intended to be less bulky than the EMU and support a wider range. Of body types.
“My honest opinion is that it is a much more capable suit,” said Olivas, who performed five spacewalks lasting more than 34 hours during two shuttle missions while at NASA. One example is a redesign of the shoulder joint that allows for a greater degree of movement than the current EMU, especially for smaller people.
One example he gave was clipping a shoe into the footbed. In the old suit, people getting used to the suit took 5 to 10 minutes during training in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL), a large swimming pool used to simulate spacewalks. Olivas said he was able to don the new suit within 20 seconds of microgravity on the plane.
The next step for the suit is a round of testing at the NBL to simulate longer spacewalk missions. These tests will seek to ensure that the suit performs equal to or better than the EMU in key activities during a spacewalk on the ISS.
While the suit’s initial purpose is to replace the EMU suit on the International Space Station, Olivas said the company is looking at other applications for it, such as future commercial space stations that will succeed the International Space Station.
“We need to understand what the suit can do for a space station that has not yet been identified,” he said. “Regardless of who gets there first or what system it is, we want to be able to operate in that environment.” He added that Collins has held discussions with companies participating in NASA’s Commercial Low-Earth Orbit Destinations Program, which supports the development of these commercial stations.
Collins is also looking forward to the potential use of the suit in spacewalks at the Lunar Gateway and even on the surface of the Moon. While the other xEVAS award winner, Axiom Space, has a mission order to develop a lunar spacesuit, the two companies have “cross-over” mission orders from NASA so Axiom can study use of its suit on the International Space Station and Collins for Artemis missions.
Olivas said the current suit design is expandable 90% to 95% to fit a design that could be used on the lunar surface. “We also have to think about if we take a suit that works great in micro G, let’s drop it on the moon; Now what does that mean?” he said. “We don’t want to design ourselves into a box that only has a Micro G environment. We really want to look at all human exploration for the foreseeable future.