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Space Science

Creating Budget Space Suits For the Private Space Industry 98

Zothecula writes "Although the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft was unmanned during its recent first flight to the International Space Station, the success of that mission marked a huge step toward future crewed commercial space flights. SpaceX, of course, isn't the only player in this newly-forming industry – companies such as Virgin Galactic, Boeing, and Blue Origin are also hoping to take paying customers on rocket rides. However, while a lot of attention has been paid to the spacecraft themselves, one has to wonder what those private-sector astronauts will be wearing. Expensive NASA space suits, perhaps? Not if Ted Southern and Nikolay Moiseev have anything to say about it."
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Creating Budget Space Suits For the Private Space Industry

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  • I think most astronauts would be ok with a cheap suit made in the maldives or vietnam.
    After all, there's no need to waste money on designer outfits when all that's really important is a good vacuum seal and a few life support functions.
    • by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @07:20PM (#40392129) Journal
      Actually, a good vacuum seal may not be all that important. Skin cells are tough. A skin-tight fine mesh suit would apparently be good enough. An astronaut could look like a downhill skier or speed skater.
      • Yeah; the issue isn't the vacuum; the issue is protection against radiation and orifice protection (mostly eyes, nose and mouth).

        • The suits are designed to be use during takeoff and landing as an emergency backup *within* the spacecraft. Radiation really isn't the main issue there.
        • Actually, yes you have to protect against vacuum, because it would cause decompression sickness (the bends) and possibly actually boil your blood because of the lowered boiling point of water.

          • But protecting against 0 atmosphere just isn't that big of a technological problem. As long as they're not using it for spacewalks, it should be able to be made very cheaply. I think a spacesuit for a spaceship's interior would need to be nothing more than a glorified ziplock bag with a way to allow the user to respire without suffocating. If the puzzle was making suit to protect a man at the bottom of the deepest ocean... that is a challenge.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by rubycodez ( 864176 )

            you've watched too many cheesy sci-fi movies. The human body can take 0 mm Hg pressure just fine, you have a thing called "blood pressure" inside you, your blood will not boil. Moreover, you can research yourself what the biggest issue will be, noted scientist's exact words "expect to fart a lot"

            • by Anonymous Coward

              Sorry, OP is correct. Once you've bought into the architecture of a full pressure spacesuit, which this one is, you need to provide that protection from the vacuous environment. While it's true you can only use mechanical counterpressure (in theory) to protect your body against vacuum, it does nothing for your oxgyen, obviously. An MCP suit, in theory, would need some kind of pressure seal at the neck to provide your face with breathable atmosphere.

              Also, while it's true that this suit would be IVA and wo

              • Still, all you really need in an intra-cabin pressure suit is a nominally airtight body-glove with an airtight helmet and constricted joints so that in-suit air pressure doesn't inflate it into a spread eagle balloon and render you immobile. Mechanical counter-pressure does wonders for that, as well as limiting air loss due to suit punctures. In fact the only reasons to make the body suit itself airtight is to limit leakage from the helmet and reduce outgassing from the skin, which might cause problems ov

              • sorry, NASA says you are full of shit, human body can take hard vacuum for a while.

      • The article addresses this. The suit is not intended to be worn outside of the vehicle. It will be worn in case there is a loss of pressure or life support. The vehicle is what will provide the necessary "or best possible" shielding from radiation.
    • by baegucb ( 18706 )

      No current need. Read "Have spacesuit, will travel". []
      And I'm sure the Russians have the pipe wrench version at a good price.

    • by ragefan ( 267937 )

      Is there really a need for the suits in the first place? For extra vehicular missions sure, but not all flights would have them and nor would all occupants need them? How many times have there been situations that the suit prevented injury or the lost of life? I don't call myself a Space historian, but from my recollection, having space suit did not help Apollo 1, Challenger or Columbia astronauts escape from their emergencies, nor were the Apollo 13 astronauts saved by theirs. Or is it really there to prov

  • Rarely are the two the same thing.

    • by cpu6502 ( 1960974 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @07:10PM (#40392079)

      My PC cost are mere $500 and is still going strong 10 years later. I could have spent twice as much on a non-generic brand, but would not have gotten anymore out of it. (Same principle applies to my 25 year old Dodge versus a Chrysler, or my 15 year old Honda versus an Acura. Spending less doesn't automatically mean less lifespan/reliability.)

      • by Anonymous Coward

        And I can produce a litany of people who bemoan their cheap PCs, crappy budget cars and match you anecdote for anecdote.

        There's value for your dollar, and just being cheap. Sometimes that bites you.

      • by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @07:23PM (#40392149) Journal

        My PC cost are mere $500 and is still going strong 10 years later.

        For a second there, I thought this was another MyCleanPC post.

      • Then there's the refurbished monitor I just received that started smoking and burnt itself out as soon as I plugged it in. If I'd spent 50% more and bought it from BestBuy, I wouldn't have to go through the online return process, I could just bring it straight back to them. And I think there's a possibility a new monitor is more likely to work as well. You can't always get away with pinching pennies.

        • Refurbished means it already broke once. I wouldn't want a refurbished space suit, either. "Most of my items have almost no blood left on them."
          • Refurbished means that it was returned but passed the tests. Manufacturers don't fix anything broken anymore.

    • Choose two.

      More importantly, they have to determine how valuable the payload is. At NASA the value approaches infinte, as opposed to say, coal miners or automobile passengers, where the value is somewhere in the 6 to 7 figure range. A great suit adds one more tolerance to the fault chain. Otherwise, you're just looking at a g-suit to make it through launch - source it from military contractors without the red tape for a grand or two. TFA, otoh, looks to be talking about actual EVA-capable suits.

  • by amorsen ( 7485 ) <> on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @07:21PM (#40392139)

    Space suits are bulky and annoying. All they protect you against is loss of pressure; they can't provide any protection worth mentioning against impact or fire. So what exactly is the point?

  • ..."A billion Dollars worth of hardware, held aloft by a five Dollar breaker switch."

    I don't remember where I heard/read it, but it made me laugh.

    But seriously, are you going to go with the lowest bidder? I would want the job doing by someone who knows what they're doing, not by someone who's desperate to close a contract. NASA have, demonstrably, several decades of experience in manned spaceflight, and of the equipment and systems used, and the companies to go to to fulfill their requirements. I'd rather g

    • NASA track record is not exactly stellar. 18 fatalities (5%?) [] -- if a commercial enterprise work like this they will go bust pretty quickly. I will take the lowest bidder, thank you.
      • ...and not a single one attributable to equipment failure due to poor design or normal fatigue. Challenger was the result of poor management*. Columbia was the result of failure to inspect launch damage that was *known about* **. Apollo 1 was the result of a decision to use pure oxygen instead of N-O mix in 79/21 ratio such as we have here on Earth (which was rectified after the pad fire).

        *Thiokol said "do not launch, we cannot vouch for the performance of seals at subzero temperatures", but NASA management

        • by tsotha ( 720379 )

          At least if the crew had stayed on the ISS (however uncomfortable that may have been for a few days/weeks) and jettisoned the demonstrably useless and hazardous shuttle to burn up on its own (it has a remote control so it would have been no problem to bring it in for a burn/splashdown in the middle of the Pacific), then a rescue/recovery mission for the crew would have just been a matter of warming up the VAB and strapping one of the other orbiters to an ET...

          I'm not sure how the crew would have "stayed"

          • This is one of the things that a lot of people have a hard time understanding about space travel / orbital mechanics. The analogy I use, is let's say you throw a baseball on the interstate, intending it to land in the bed of a specific pickup truck. Now half way through the ball's flight, you find out that it needs to go into another truck traveling in the opposite direction, and the only thing the ball can do is eject pieces of itself in order to change it's direction / velocity. Well, it ain't going to

            • According to 'Comm Check', the Columbia Accident Investigation Board considered alternative reentry options which would have minimized strain on the left wing, but they concluded that anything they could have done might have slowed down the rate of failure due to heating, but would not have prevented it. You'd have ended up with a shuttle breaking up 40 miles closer to Kennedy, but the shuttle would still have burned up. I don't think the difference would have made bail out a possibility.

          • I'm just finishing up 'Comm Check' right now, and the authors essentially agree with you. The best chance for a rescue in orbit would have involved the astronauts on the Columbia severely cutting activity in order to minimize oxygen consumption--that would buy them a week or so. Meanwhile, on the ground, prep work on Atlantis goes into overdrive so that they can launch as soon as a launch window opens. This assumes NASA is willing to launch Atlantis without knowing exactly what caused the foam shedding (whi

      • NASA track record is not exactly stellar.

        Bull. You can't just take NASA's accident (or fatality) record, you have to lump in the Russians, Chinese, ESA, and anyone else that has lofted a craft into semi-orbit. Because we've all learned from each other, as humans.
        And obviously, we have no other space faring species at the very beginning of their quest to compare to. Is the number of people that have been killed good or bad? No clue.

        And, according to your wiki link, Soyuz and the Shuttle fared about the
  • Space suits are a textile product, the same as a bullet proof vest, or a tommy hillfiger T-shirt.

    Currently, they are expensive and rightfully so:

    The number of paying customers is small.
    The number of units sold is small.
    The batch sizes for materials are small.
    The number of places that make them is small.
    The number of people that design and build/test them is small.

    However, space suits, like any other commodity that could theoretically benefit from mass manufacture, stand to benefit greatly from the network e

    • by slew ( 2918 )

      In a gold rush, it's often better to be the one selling the shovels instead of the one buying shovels and digging for the gold...

      So instead of a market of 100 space suits a year, there's maybe a total market of 5,000 (best case for the forseeable future, at that rate you'd be launching 100 people into space every week). If you expect at least a couple manufacturers competing, that's 2,500. I can tell you that probably doesn't even count as mass manufacturing for something like a space suit...

      Compare this

      • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

        So instead of a market of 100 space suits a year, there's maybe a total market of 5,000 (best case for the forseeable future, at that rate you'd be launching 100 people into space every week). If you expect at least a couple manufacturers competing, that's 2,500. I can tell you that probably doesn't even count as mass manufacturing for something like a space suit...

        Compare this to a bullet proof vest. There are about 20,000 law-enforcement agencies in the US. Assuming only 1/10th of them would buy 1 bullet

        • by slew ( 2918 )

          As for why you have a suit - the challenger disaster revealed that the astronauts actually survived the explosions, only to die of hypoxia in the thin air. If you look at shuttle photos before and after, you'll see they used light jumpsuits prior to the disaster, and then wore the orange pressure suits (launch/reentry suits) afterwards.

          Okay, so they somehow survive the explosion and are now up 65,000 feet with an orange pressure suit. Is that gonna change anything? There's wasn't survivable "ejection" system on the shuttle (they studied adding one, but concluded there was no feasible way to deploy it).

          Wouldn't have helped Columbia (which broke up during reentry when the frictional heating was highest), as they're not made to handle extreme atsmosphere re-entry temperatures - just for cases of decompression.

          There was no way that this scheme would have saved any of the Challenger folks either as there was no way for them to get to the hatch and jump out in free fall conditions. The PR solution was to put them in these pressure suits and if in

  • ...will be wearing."

    Flip-flops, baggy shorts, and t-shirts, init? They are going to be tourists, after all.

  • by Nyder ( 754090 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @09:42PM (#40393381) Journal

    Lets face it, if the shit hits the fan, you are probably dead, space suit or not.

    • Agreed.... The reality of the whole thing is unless they plan on having regular schmucks performing spacewalks.... the need for space suits inside the ship is negligible. The jumpsuits they wear now inside the ships are antimicrobial, and provide a minimum level of insulation to keep the astronaut warm. Remember that the astronauts are up for days on end now. They need specialized clothing considering space limitations on the capsules/ISS since they will have to wear the same outfit for a week. For the sho
  • by k(wi)r(kipedia) ( 2648849 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @09:54PM (#40393479)

    Cheap as in dirt-cheap isn't the way to go when you have space tourists willing to blow a normal person's annual salary on a joyride. It would be better to design as suit that looks good, while functioning well. I'm think along the lines of Dava Newman's prototype Bio-Suit [], a sleek looking design that doesn't make the presumably fit space traveller looking like the Teletubbies or the Pillsbury Dough boy.

    The Bio-Suit is sleek because it is supposed to work on "mechanical counter-pressure" rather than through simple air pressure. That's the theory anyway. Here's hoping she and her team work out the kinks.

    • by khallow ( 566160 )
      And if the presumably-fit space tourist isn't actually fit, a form-fitting suit will look pretty bad.
  • Why pressurized? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jeti ( 105266 ) on Thursday June 21, 2012 @12:42AM (#40394583) Homepage

    Can anybody explain to me why people insist on building pressurized space suits? Working in them seems to be pure pain (say goodbye to your fingernails). Unpressurized suits have successfully been tested as early as 1969 (

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Spacesuit engineer here.

      Long story short - MCP suits just aren't there yet for a variety or reasons, and there are some of us that aren't sure they ever will be (I think they will, eventually). Namely - applying adequate pressure to all areas of the body, including cavities like the crotch, armpits and crotches of the fingers. Also, making the transition from the MCP part of the suit to the pressurized bubble - you have to have a good, reliable seal against the neck capable of holding 8psi, which is subst

      • by jeti ( 105266 )

        Thank you for your reply.

        I'm aware that unpressurized suits need to be precisely tailored and donning them is not easy. However, I think the same is true for pressurized suits.

        And while a full suit assembly would be nearly as bulky as for a pressurized suit, the main problem seems to be that the astronaut has to work against the pressure, which is tiring and makes movement imprecise.

        My understanding is that areas where the suit does not fit precisely fill with (lymph?) liquid and swell. Is this a serious pr

        • The water-filled regions are an interesting concept, but I imagine it could get quite uncomfortable. Tight clothing chafes badly enough enough when dry, and you'll never convince the water to stay neatly pooled at your groin, it'll get forced into the surrounding suit as you move, which could also be a safety issue assuming an electric heating system, not to me ntion if you were to get stuck upside-down on a planet. Another option might be if the suit is only slightly pressurized - say an airtight "body-g

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