Experimental Investigation of Configurations and Capabilities of a Space Utility Vehicle
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The concept of a space utility vehicle (SUV), also termed “single person spacecraft” or “man-in-a-can”, has been around since the mid-1950’s. However, in the intervening time, little or no experimental investigation has taken place into the feasibility of the concept in comparison to traditional EVA, telerobotics, or other space operations. To address this lack, the University of Maryland (UMd) has undertaken an extensive program to better understand the capabilities and limitations of the SUV concept. Multiple prior UMd studies dating back to 1993 have examined the SUV concept on paper, and concluded that the most advantageous configuration would incorporate spacesuit arms as well as robotic manipulators to allow full human manual dexterity to be applied at the space worksite. Analyses also indicated the advantage of single-crew spacecraft capable of docking and supporting two crew for enhanced survival in contingency situations. This paper documents the latest phase of SUV research performed at UMd, focusing on the design and construction of a neutral buoyancy-compatible mockup of the current baseline design. AX-5 type “hard suit” arms were fabricated using additive manufacturing, including integral bearings, and tested for range and ease of motion. The mockup was outfitted with notional controls and displays for laboratory testing, and four different control locations identified for various flight phases. The mockup was then reconfigured for underwater testing, and concepts for reconfigurable crew restraints tested and evaluated in each location. A primary focus of this testing will be to obtain quantitative data on the utility of spacesuit arms in a vehicle of this type, and to test concepts for simultaneous manual manipulation and robotic arm control. The paper details tests conducted and results obtained, along with plans for future development activities.