Prototype emergency spacesuits face first splashdown tests
To help develop the next generation of both spacesuits and astronauts, non-profit research organization Project Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere (PoSSUM) is preparing to conduct splashdown tests of a new commercial spacesuit, with the help of ten student and citizen scientist-astronaut candidates. The education organization will use a full-scale glass fiber and aluminum mock-up of NASA's Orion crew capsule for tests of Final Frontier Design's third generation Intra-Vehicular Activity (3G IVA) spacesuits, starting next month.
Testing spacesuits and training prospective astronauts in how to use them isn't easy – especially when they're emergency suits. An IVA suit, for example, is very different from the familiar ones seen on International Space Station spacewalks or old footage from the Apollo moon missions. It's not meant for working outside of a spaceship, but as the last line of defense if the crew cabin suddenly loses air pressure.
Such suits can and have saved lives, but their design is a compromise between protection and mobility. The latter is particularly important if a capsule has returned to Earth and is floating on rough seas awaiting recovery. Under these conditions, the crew needs to be able to move around in or get out of the craft as quickly and easy as possible.
According to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, whose students Heidi Hammerstein and Amy Ramos are taking part in the exercise, the splashdown tests will look at various aspects of the new spacesuits. These include a life preserver unit, neck dams to prevent suit flooding, parachute harnesses, egress systems and an emergency breathing apparatus. The tests will be conducted with the mock-up Orion in water, both right-side up and upside-down.
For the April spacesuit tests, the participants will use post-landing test and training protocols developed by former NASA astronaut instructors from actual space mission experience.
"Outside of government space agencies, there is no spaceflight-focused emergency operations training available to researchers, academia or civil spaceflight operators," says PoSSUM's Astronautics Training Director Ken Trujillo. "The courses, tests and hardware we are developing will hopefully build an industry database and lead to improved systems, operations and safety to all involved in the civil space industry."
Embry-Riddle says that through the exercise, PoSSUM will qualify project graduates to use the suit for flights at altitudes in excess of 50,000 feet (15,000 m) later this year.
A new set of PoSSUM citizen-science programs will be conducted at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach, Florida between March 31 and April 4 and is accepting applications.