Suborbital Flight Will Demonstrate Technology that Could Keep Astronauts Healthier
CAMBRIDGE, MA – As Sandra Bullock’s character in the movie “Gravity” spun away from the space shuttle following an accident during a spacewalk, she found herself disoriented and unable to determine her own position. Astronauts find that the lack of gravitational force that made her character unable to distinguish up from down can also be disorienting when doing routine research and other tasks in the initial days after reaching orbit, and its absence during prolonged weightlessness can lead to muscle and bone loss.
NASA has funded Draper Laboratory to address these concerns with new spacesuit technology that introduces a sensation similar to gravitational pull, giving them a sense of “down” while in space. The artificial force could also keep astronauts healthier by giving them the slight resistance to movement that comes with gravity, which helps keep muscles in shape and bones from degenerating.
The space agency announced plans on April 22 to test Draper’s spacesuit technology in a microgravity environment during parabolic flight funded by its Flight Opportunities Program.
“This flight opportunity allows us to demonstrate our technology in a relevant environment for spaceflight use, as well as determine how much torque we need to generate so that astronauts can feel the resistance while weightless,” explained Kevin Duda, Draper’s principal investigator for the Variable Vector Countermeasure Suit (V2Suit).
Draper began development of the V2Suit, which includes an inertial measurement unit and control moment gyroscopes to raise or lower resistance to body movements, with funding from NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) office. Draper is also investigating the possibility of applying the same technology here on Earth to stabilize walking and other movements for the elderly, and assist with injury rehabilitation.