xEMU, the space suit of the Artemis program
The space suits currently used on the International Space Station were designed some 40 years ago. As part of the Artemis program that aims to send humans back to the Moon, the US space agency must update its equipment for the mobility, safety or comfort of astronauts.
The new space suits of NASA are called xEMU. NASA can work from the feedback experience it has already been on the Moon, which should allow to correct the inconvenience suffered by the Apollo program astronauts, who have for example fallen many times on the lunar surface, especially because of too rigid and unbalanced space suits.
A more flexible space suit with more electronics
The xEMUs will provide much better flexibility in the knees and shoulders. This is possible thanks to an entrance from the back of the space suit. This method also makes it possible to shorten the entry and exit time of the space suit.
Advances in miniaturization allow redundant systems to be embarked without increasing the volume of the space suit, which increases the chances of survival in the event of system failure. Inside the helmet, several microphones can communicate regardless of the orientation of the head of the occupant. All advances in modern electronics will help astronauts in the Artemis program.
Finally, a space suit adapted to women
These new space suits are designed to be worn by women, which is not the case for current EMUs. The xEMUs must be ready in 2024 , the date of the return of humans on the Moon. This is probably not the most important challenge of the Artemis program, but it is a great step forward to avoid generating schedule delays.
NASA is developing a revolutionary space suit, the Z-2
– News of September 16, 2018 –
Space suits are fascinating objects. They must maintain a pressure, a temperature and oxygen levels in space while being sufficiently compact and flexible to allow precise movements. They are real mini spaceships. Space suits are therefore technologic jewels which unit price can reach nearly 15 million dollars. It is necessary to make a difference between the space suits intended to be worn in a spaceship and the space suits planned for the extravehicular exits, which are much more imposing.
The interior of a spaceship is normally already pressurized and at a good temperature. The space suits worn inside are therefore only useful in the event of an incident. That’s why they are much thinner and lighter, like SpaceX’s space suit. Space suits for spacewalks require lengthy and costly development that can cost hundreds of millions of dollars. But it still brings more comfort to astronauts.
For example, NASA is developing the Z-2 space suit, which will be particularly well suited to planetary exploration. It is indeed possible to enter and exit from the back of the space suit. The maneuver is much simpler for astronauts already exhausted by their mission. This rear door can also serve as an airlock directly attached to a habitat module, which greatly reduces the risk of contamination by dust. We know how important this issue is on the Moon or on Mars.
The Z-2 space suit is a well-articulated combination. It should allow astronauts to move easier. It is for example provided to be able to kneel. Finally, the pressure inside this space suit is the same as inside a space station or a space dwelling. The current space suits require spending several hours in a controlled environment before wearing them. It is indeed under-pressurized.
Image by NASA / James McDivitt (Great Images in NASA Description) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons