Delaware Public Media

"Next generation" spacesuit from ILC Dover in testing phase

Mar 5, 2017

Upcoming missions to the moon and Mars require spacesuits that can work in higher gravity environments.

 

 

Delaware’s own ILC Dover has provided NASA with spacesuits since the Apollo mission, and they sent a next generation spacesuit to NASA to be tested.

ILC Dover Historian Bill Ayrey said the average spacesuit can work in the low pressure found in outer space. 

 

But what happens when astronauts land on a planet like Mars? There isn't a spacesuit that can handle the pressure, Ayrey said. 

 

High pressure in space is like a soda bottle. If you shake it up and then open it, all the compressed gas in the liquid bursts out of the bottle because you’ve reduced the pressure.

“The same thing happens to our body,” Ayrey said. “When we breathe in oxygen, it  goes into our blood, gets dissolved into the bloodstream, gets carried into our body. If I pop a glove off in space, the gas that’s dissolved in our blood is going to want to come bubbling out of our glove because we don’t have the pressure pushing against it any longer.”

 

And higher pressures make it harder for astronauts to move their arms and legs in their suits.

 

That’s where the Z-2 suit comes in. It’s a lightweight suit that can work under higher pressures and help an astronaut maintain flexibility, Ayrey said.

 

“The Z-2 suit will have the ability to have the astronauts walk in this gravity environment and be able to bend down, have more flexibility, a lighter weight suit, that’s very important,” Ayrey said.

 

Ayrey said the Z-2 suit is designed to be used in a “semi-gravity” or “light-gravity environment,” but regardless, the astronaut needs to be able to walk on a “gravity environment.”

 

Other spacesuits can’t really do that because they are designed as floating suits, Ayrey said. They allow astronauts to float outside the space station or on a space shuttle.

 

Advanced suit engineers are testing the Z-2 suit in desert environments to simulate space-like conditions. They’ll then be able to gauge if the Z-2 suit can work under high pressure.