An Overview of the SmartSuit Architecture

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50th International Conference on Environmental Systems

SmartSuit is an advanced planetary spacesuit for the next generation of exploration missions that capitalizes on a novel architecture to improve on current gas-pressurized spacesuits. The SmartSuit, while gas-pressurized, also incorporates the following three technological innovations: 1) a full-body soft-robotic layer within the gas-pressurized suit to enhance mobility, 2) an outer layer made of stretchable self-healing skin to enhance safety, 3) stretchable optoelectronic sensors embedded in the membrane to improve interaction with the environment and monitor skin membrane integrity. SmartSuit will exploit soft-robotic actuation to counteract spacesuit joint torques, thus improving mobility and metabolic expenditure on EVA missions. Additionally, the soft-robotic layer also provides mechanical counterpressure (MCP) to the wearer, which allows a decrease in the gas-operating pressure within the suit (therefore further enhancing suit mobility), and/or relaxing prebreathe requirements. We expect the proposed spacesuit soft-robotic technology to also reduce the numerous spacesuit-fit injuries and discomfort experienced by present astronauts due to the current highly pressurized spacesuits with no robotic assistance. In this paper, we introduce our SmartSuit spacesuit architecture and present preliminary results on feasibility and prototyping, and we discuss potential benefits during future planetary exploration missions. In particular, we built and characterized two knee soft-robotic actuator prototypes in the context of the SmartSuit, and we compared theoretical and empirical performance limits. Additionally, we conducted a human-spacesuit biomechanics analysis and quantified improvements in metabolic expenditures and other biomechanical metrics from the soft-robotic actuators. Finally, we present prototype testing of the self-healing membrane and performance of the optoelectronic sensors. These features of the SmartSuit were considered in the current mission architecture for EVAs on the Mars Design Reference Mission 5.0.

Logan Kluis, Texas A&M University
Nathan Keller, Texas A&M University
Narahari Iyengar, Cornell University
Hedan Bai, Cornell University
Robert Shepherd, Cornell University
Ana Diaz-Artiles, Texas A&M University
ICES400: Extravehicular Activity: Space Suits
The 50th International Conference on Environmental Systems was held virtually on 12 July 2021 through 14 July 2021.
SmartSuit, Metabolic Cost, Energy Expenditure, Human Performance, Musculoskeletal Modeling