For both skydivers and astronauts, going into a spin can be a fatal mistake, so engineering firm Draper is working on an anti-spin device to bring them automatically back to stability. Using a network of sensors and Control Moment Gyroscopes (CMGs), the new system detects a dangerous rotation and generates a counter-torque to cancel it out.
It may seem odd that skydivers and astronauts share similar problems, but, especially at extremely high altitudes like the upper stratosphere, the two fields overlap. Both have to deal with lack of gravity and lack of air, and some skydivers, like Felix Baumgartner during his Red Bull Stratos jump, even have to wear proper spacesuits for protection.
For both astronauts and high-altitude divers, one of the most dangerous hazards is going into an uncontrolled spin. With no gravity and no air to work against, a high-altitude diver and a spacewalking astronaut can go into a spin that can be anything from disorienting to suffering g-forces strong enough to cause unconsciousness or even death.
With 3.2 million people going parachuting each year in the US alone and the prospect of a boom in space tourism in the next couple of decades, Draper is teaming with spacesuit designer David Clark to produce a system that can be installed inside a pressure suit or skydiving suit to counter out-of-control spins. The idea is that the CMGs can detect the direction and force of the spin, then use the gyros to redirect the angular momentum of its own spinning mass to generate anti-spin.
"Improving spacesuits for emergency escape at high altitudes is a priority for the space systems community, and that includes NASA and many of the private space companies developing suborbital and orbital vehicles," says Kevin Duda, a space systems engineer at Draper.
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