Akin, Jacobs Develop Morphing Upper Torso SpacesuitISR-affiliated Associate Professor Dave Akin (AE) and his graduate student Shane Jacobs are developing a morphing upper torso spacesuit that can contract using pneumatic artificial muscles to make donning the suit easier and ensure a perfect fit. Jacob recently presented research on the new suit at the International Astronautical Congress in Daejong, South Korea.
The suit is being developed by the Space Systems Laboratory, which Akin directs, and ILC Dover LP, a company specializing in engineering softgoods products. It is being tested in the university's neutral buoyancy tank.
The soft pressure garment can be dynamically reconfigured to tailor its shape properties to the wearer and the desired task set. The upper torso consists of a helmet ring, waist ring and two shoulder rings in a system of four interconnected parallel manipulators with tensile links. This configuration allows the dynamic control of both the position and orientation of each of the four rings, enabling modification of critical sizing dimensions such as the inter-scye distance, as
The morphing upper torso’s light weight, resizability, and dynamic reconfigurability makes it appealing as a candidate for a next-generation planetary exploration suit. Jacobs noted that the suit should be less unwieldy than today's suits and allow astronauts to be more efficient, both during spacewalks and in planetary exploration.
"Our research shows that of the physical work astronauts actually do on a spacewalk, only one-quarter of it is mission related. The rest goes into just moving the spacesuit around," says Akin.
Robotic actuators are also being applied to the suit's gloves. The suit also includes new visual aids in the form of stereo LCD spectacles and an in-helmet video screen. The LCD glasses can show augmented reality imagery.
Published December 7, 2009