A space suit is a garment worn to keep a human alive in the harsh environment of outer space, vacuum and temperature extremes. Space suits are often worn inside spacecraft as a safety precaution in case of loss of cabin pressure, and are necessary for extravehicular activity (EVA), work done outside spacecraft. Space suits have been worn for such work in Earth orbit, on the surface of the Moon, and en route back to Earth from the Moon. Modern space suits augment the basic pressure garment with a complex system of equipment and environmental systems designed to keep the wearer comfortable, and to minimize the effort required to bend the limbs, resisting a soft pressure garment's natural tendency to stiffen against the vacuum. A self-contained oxygen supply and environmental control system is frequently employed to allow complete freedom of movement, independent of the spacecraft.
- Secondary requirements
- Operating pressure
- Exposure to space without a space suit
- Theories of design
- Soft suits
- Hard shell suits
- Hybrid suits
- Skintight suits
- Contributing technologies
- High altitude suits
- Soviet and Russian suit models
- United States suit models
- Chinese suit models
- Emerging technologies
- Z series
- Mark III
- I Suit
- SpaceX spacesuit
- Bio Suit
- MX 2
- North Dakota suit
- NASA Constellation Space Suit system
- Astronaut Glove Challenge
- In fiction
Three types of spacesuits exist for different purposes: IVA (intravehicular activity), EVA (extravehicular activity), and IEVA (intra/extravehicular activity). IVA suits are meant to be worn inside a pressurized spacecraft, and are therefore lighter and more comfortable. IEVA suits are meant for use inside and outside the spacecraft, such as the Gemini G4C suit. They include more protection from the harsh conditions of space, such as protection from micrometeorites and extreme temperature change. EVA suits, such as the EMU, are used outside spacecraft, for either planetary exploration or spacewalks. They must protect the wearer against all conditions of space, as well as provide mobility and functionality.
Some of these requirements also apply to pressure suits worn for other specialized tasks, such as high-altitude reconnaissance flight. Above Armstrong's line (around 19,000 m (62,000 ft)), the atmosphere is so thin that pressurized suits are needed.
The first full-pressure suits for use at extreme altitudes were designed by individual inventors as early as the 1930s. The first space suit worn by a human in space was the Soviet SK-1 suit worn by Yuri Gagarin in 1961.
A space suit must perform several functions to allow its occupant to work safely and comfortably, inside or outside a spacecraft. It must provide:
Advanced suits better regulate the astronaut's temperature with a Liquid Cooling and Ventilation Garment (LCVG) in contact with the astronaut's skin, from which the heat is dumped into space through an external radiator in the PLSS.
Additional requirements for EVA include:
As part of astronautical hygiene control (i.e., protecting astronauts from extremes of temperature, radiation, etc.), a space suit is essential for extravehicular activity. The Apollo/Skylab A7L suit included eleven layers in all: an inner liner, a LCVG, a pressure bladder, a restraint layer, another liner, and a Thermal Micrometeoroid Garment consisting of five aluminized insulation layers and an external layer of white Ortho-Fabric. This space suit is capable of protecting the astronaut from temperatures ranging from −156 °C (−249 °F) to 121 °C (250 °F).
During exploration of the moon or Mars, there will be the potential for lunar/Martian dust to be retained on the space suit. When the space suit is removed on return to the spacecraft, there will be the potential for the dust to contaminate surfaces and increase the risks of inhalation and skin exposure. Astronautical hygienists are testing materials with reduced dust retention times and the potential to control the dust exposure risks during planetary exploration. Novel ingress/egress approaches, such as suitports, are being explored as well.
In NASA space suits, communications are provided via a cap worn over the head, which includes earphones and a microphone. Due to the coloration of the version used for Apollo and Skylab, which resembled the coloration of the comic strip character Snoopy, these caps became known as "Snoopy caps."
Generally, to supply enough oxygen for respiration, a space suit using pure oxygen must have a pressure of about 32.4 kPa (240 Torr; 4.7 psi), equal to the 20.7 kPa (160 Torr; 3.0 psi) partial pressure of oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere at sea level, plus 5.3 kPa (40 Torr; 0.77 psi) CO
2 and 6.3 kPa (47 Torr; 0.91 psi) water vapor pressure, both of which must be subtracted from the alveolar pressure to get alveolar oxygen partial pressure in 100% oxygen atmospheres, by the alveolar gas equation. The latter two figures add to 11.6 kPa (87 Torr, 1.7 psi), which is why many modern space suits do not use 20.7 kPa (160 Torr; 3.0 psi), but 32.4 kPa (240 Torr; 4.7 psi) (this is a slight overcorrection, as alveolar partial pressures at sea level are slightly less than the former). In space suits that use 20.7 kPa, the astronaut gets only 20.7 kPa − 11.7 kPa = 9.0 kPa (68 Torr; 1.3 psi) of oxygen, which is about the alveolar oxygen partial pressure attained at an altitude of 1,860 m (6,100 ft) above sea level. This is about 78% of normal partial pressure of oxygen at sea level, about the same as pressure in a commercial passenger jet aircraft, and is the realistic lower limit for safe ordinary space suit pressurization which allows reasonable capacity for work.
When space suits below a specific operating pressure are used from craft that are pressurized to normal atmospheric pressure (such as the Space Shuttle), this requires astronauts to "pre-breathe" (meaning pre-breathe pure oxygen for a period) before donning their suits and depressurizing in the air lock. This procedure purges the body of dissolved nitrogen, so as to avoid decompression sickness due to rapid depressurization from a nitrogen-containing atmosphere.
Exposure to space without a space suit
The human body can briefly survive the hard vacuum of space unprotected, despite contrary depictions in some popular science fiction. Human flesh expands to about twice its size in such conditions, giving the visual effect of a body builder rather than an overfilled balloon. Consciousness is retained for up to 15 seconds as the effects of oxygen starvation set in. No snap freeze effect occurs because all heat must be lost through thermal radiation or the evaporation of liquids, and the blood does not boil because it remains pressurized within the body.
In space, there are many different highly energized subatomic protons that will expose the body to extreme radiation. Although these compounds are minimal in amount, their high energy is liable to disrupt essential physical and chemical processes in the body, such as altering DNA or causing cancers. Exposure to radiation can create problems via two methods: the particles can react with water in the human body to produce free radicals that break DNA molecules apart, or by directly breaking the DNA molecules.
Temperature in space can vary extremely depending on where the sun is. Temperatures from solar radiation can reach up to 250 °F (121 °C) and lower down to −387 °F (−233 °C). Because of this, spacesuits must provide proper insulation and cooling.
The vacuum in space creates zero pressure, causing the gases and processes in the body to expand. In order to prevent chemical processes in the body from overreacting, it is necessary to develop a suit that counteracts against the pressure in space. The greatest danger is in attempting to hold one's breath before exposure, as the subsequent explosive decompression can damage the lungs. These effects have been confirmed through various accidents (including in very-high-altitude conditions, outer space and training vacuum chambers). Human skin does not need to be protected from vacuum and is gas-tight by itself. Instead, it only needs to be mechanically compressed to retain its normal shape. This can be accomplished with a tight-fitting elastic body suit and a helmet for containing breathing gases, known as a space activity suit (SAS).
Theories of design
A space suit should allow its user natural unencumbered movement. Nearly all designs try to maintain a constant volume no matter what movements the wearer makes. This is because mechanical work is needed to change the volume of a constant pressure system. If flexing a joint reduces the volume of the space suit, then the astronaut must do extra work every time he bends that joint, and he has to maintain a force to keep the joint bent. Even if this force is very small, it can be seriously fatiguing to constantly fight against one's suit. It also makes delicate movements very difficult. The work required to bend a joint is dictated by the formula
where Vi and Vf are respectively the initial and final volume of the joint, P is the pressure in the suit, and W is the resultant work. It is generally true that all suits are more mobile at lower pressures. However, because a minimum internal pressure is dictated by life support requirements, the only means of further reducing work is to minimize the change in volume.
All space suit designs try to minimize or eliminate this problem. The most common solution is to form the suit out of multiple layers. The bladder layer is a rubbery, airtight layer much like a balloon. The restraint layer goes outside the bladder, and provides a specific shape for the suit. Since the bladder layer is larger than the restraint layer, the restraint takes all of the stresses caused by the pressure inside the suit. Since the bladder is not under pressure, it will not "pop" like a balloon, even if punctured. The restraint layer is shaped in such a way that bending a joint causes pockets of fabric, called "gores," to open up on the outside of the joint, while folds called "convolutes" fold up on the inside of the joint. The gores make up for the volume lost on the inside of the joint, and keep the suit at a nearly constant volume. However, once the gores are opened all the way, the joint cannot be bent any further without a considerable amount of work.
In some Russian space suits, strips of cloth were wrapped tightly around the cosmonaut's arms and legs outside the space suit to stop the space suit from ballooning when in space.
The outermost layer of a space suit, the Thermal Micrometeoroid Garment, provides thermal insulation, protection from micrometeoroids, and shielding from harmful solar radiation.
There are four theoretical approaches to suit design:
Soft suits typically are made mostly of fabrics. All soft suits have some hard parts, some even have hard joint bearings. Intra-vehicular activity and early EVA suits were soft suits.
Hard-shell suits are usually made of metal or composite materials and do not use fabric for joints. Hard suits joints use ball bearings and wedge-ring segments similar to an adjustable elbow of a stove pipe to allow a wide range of movement with the arms and legs. The joints maintain a constant volume of air internally and do not have any counter force. Therefore, the astronaut does not need to exert to hold the suit in any position. Hard suits can also operate at higher pressures which would eliminate the need for an astronaut to pre-breathe oxygen to use a 34 kPa (4.9 psi) space suit before an EVA from a 101 kPa (14.6 psi) spacecraft cabin. The joints may get into a restricted or locked position requiring the astronaut to manipulate or program the joint. The NASA Ames Research Center experimental AX-5 hard-shell space suit had a flexibility rating of 95%. The wearer could move into 95% of the positions he or she could while nude.
Hybrid suits have hard-shell parts and fabric parts. NASA's Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) uses a fiberglass Hard Upper Torso (HUT) and fabric limbs. ILC Dover's I-Suit replaces the HUT with a fabric soft upper torso to save weight, restricting the use of hard components to the joint bearings, helmet, waist seal, and rear entry hatch. Virtually all workable space suit designs incorporate hard components, particularly at interfaces such as the waist seal, bearings, and in the case of rear-entry suits, the back hatch, where all-soft alternatives are not viable.
Skintight suits, also known as mechanical counterpressure suits or space activity suits, are a proposed design which would use a heavy elastic body stocking to compress the body. The head is in a pressurized helmet, but the rest of the body is pressurized only by the elastic effect of the suit. This eliminates the constant volume problem, reduces the possibility of a space suit depressurization and gives a very lightweight suit. When not worn, the elastic garments' may appear to be that of clothing for a small child. These suits may be very difficult to put on and face problems with providing a uniform pressure. Most proposals use the body's natural perspiration to keep cool. Sweat evaporates readily in vacuum and may desublime or deposit on objects nearby: optics, sensors, the astronaut's visor, and other surfaces. The icy film and sweat residue may contaminate sensitive surfaces and affect optical performance.
Related preceding technologies include the gas mask used in World War II, the oxygen mask used by pilots of high flying bombers in World War II, the high altitude or vacuum suit required by pilots of the Lockheed U-2 and SR-71 Blackbird, the diving suit, rebreather, scuba diving gear, and many others.
Many spacesuit designs are taken from the U.S. Air Force suits, which are designed to work in “high altitude aircraft pressure[s],” such as the Mercury IVA suit or the Gemini G4C, or the Advanced Crew Escape Suits.
The Mercury IVA, the first U.S. spacesuit design, included lights at the tips of the gloves in order to provide visual aid. As the need for extravehicular activity grew, suits such as the Apollo A7L included gloves made of a metal fabric called Chromel-r in order to prevent punctures. In order to retain a better sense of touch for the astronauts, the fingertips of the gloves were made of silicone. With the shuttle program, it became necessary to be able to operate spacecraft modules, so the ACES suits featured gripping on the gloves. EMU gloves, which are used for spacewalks, are heated to keep the astronaut's hands warm. The Phase VI gloves, meant for use with the Mark III suit, are the first gloves to be designed with "laser scanning technology, 3D computer modeling, stereo lithography, laser cutting technology and CNC machining." This allows for cheaper, more accurate production, as well as increased detail in joint mobility and flexibility.
Life Support Technology
Prior to the Apollo missions, life support in space suits was connected to the space capsule via an umbilical cord-like device. However, with the Apollo missions, life support was configured into a removable capsule called the Portable Life Support System that allowed the astronaut to explore the moon without having to be attached to the space craft. The EMU spacesuit, used for spacewalks, allows the astronaut to manually control the internal environment of the suit. The Mark III suit has a backpack filled with about 12 pounds of liquid air, as well as pressurization and heat exchange.
The development of the spheroidal dome helmet was key in balancing the need for field of view, pressure compensation, and low weight. One inconvenience with some space suits is the head being fixed facing forwards and being unable to turn to look sideways. Astronauts call this effect "alligator head."
Soviet and Russian suit models
United States suit models
Chinese suit models
Several companies and universities are developing technologies and prototypes which represent improvements over current space suits.
In 2012, NASA introduced the Z-1 spacesuit, the first in the Z-series of spacesuit prototypes designed by NASA specifically for planetary extravehicular activity. The Z-1 spacesuit includes an emphasis on mobility and protection for space missions. It features a soft torso versus the hard torsos seen in previous NASA EVA spacesuits, which provides reduced mass. It has been labeled the "Buzz Lightyear suit" due to its green streaks for a design.
In 2014, NASA released the design for the Z-2 prototype, the next model in the Z-series. NASA conducted a poll asking the public to decide on a design for the Z-2 spacesuit. The designs, created by fashion students from Philadelphia University, were "Technology", "Trends in Society", and "Biomimicry." The design "Technology" won, and the prototype is built with technologies like 3D printing. The Z-2 suit will also differ from the Z-1 suit in that the torso reverts to the hard shell, as seen in NASA's EMU suit.
NASA's Prototype eXploration Suit (PXS), like the Z-series, is a rear-entry suit compatible with suitports. The suit has components which could be 3D printed during missions to a range of specifications, to fit different individuals or changing mobility requirements.
The Mark III is a NASA prototype, constructed by ILC Dover, which incorporates a hard lower torso section and a mix of soft and hard components. The Mark III is markedly more mobile than previous suits, despite its high operating pressure (57 kPa or 8.3 psi), which makes it a "zero-prebreathe" suit, meaning that astronauts would be able to transition directly from a one atmosphere, mixed-gas space station environment, such as that on the International Space Station, to the suit, without risking decompression sickness, which can occur with rapid depressurization from an atmosphere containing nitrogen or another inert gas.
The I-Suit is a space suit prototype also constructed by ILC Dover, which incorporates several design improvements over the EMU, including a weight-saving soft upper torso. Both the Mark III and the I-Suit have taken part in NASA's annual Desert Research and Technology Studies (D-RATS) field trials, during which suit occupants interact with one another, and with rovers and other equipment.
As of February 2015, SpaceX is developing a spacesuit for use by private astronauts to use in the Dragon V2 space capsule.
Bio-Suit is a space activity suit under development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which as of 2006 consisted of several lower leg prototypes. Bio-suit is custom fit to each wearer, using laser body scanning.
The MX-2 is a space suit analogue constructed at the University of Maryland's Space Systems Laboratory. The MX-2 is used for manned neutral buoyancy testing at the Space Systems Lab's Neutral Buoyancy Research Facility. By approximating the work envelope of a real EVA suit, without meeting the requirements of a flight-rated suit, the MX-2 provides an inexpensive platform for EVA research, compared to using EMU suits at facilities like NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory.
The MX-2 has an operating pressure of 2.5–4 psi. It is a rear-entry suit, featuring a fiberglass HUT. Air, LCVG cooling water, and power are open loop systems, provided through an umbilical. The suit contains a Mac mini computer to capture sensor data, such as suit pressure, inlet and outlet air temperatures, and heart rate. Resizable suit elements and adjustable ballast allow the suit to accommodate subjects ranging in height from 68 to 75 inches (170–190 cm), and with a weight range of 120 lb (54 kg).
North Dakota suit
Beginning in May 2006 five North Dakota colleges collaborated on a new space suit prototype, funded by a USD$100,000 grant from NASA, to demonstrate technologies which could be incorporated into a planetary suit. The suit was tested in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park badlands of western North Dakota. The suit has a mass of 47 pounds (21 kg) without a life support backpack, and costs only a fraction of the standard USD$12,000,000 cost for a flight-rated NASA space suit. The suit was developed in just over a year by students from the University of North Dakota, North Dakota State, Dickinson State, the state College of Science and Turtle Mountain Community College. The mobility of the North Dakota suit can be attributed to its low operating pressure; while the North Dakota suit was field tested at a pressure of 1 psi (6.9 kPa; 52 Torr) differential, NASA's EMU suit operates at a pressure of 4.7 psi (32 kPa; 240 Torr), a pressure designed to supply approximately sea-level oxygen partial pressure for respiration (see discussion above).
Since 2009, the Austrian Space Forum has been developing "Aouda.X", an experimental Mars analogue space suit focusing on an advanced human-machine interface and on-board computing network to increase situational awareness. The suit is designed to study contamination vectors in planetary exploration analogue environments and create limitations depending on the pressure regime chosen for a simulation.
Since 2012, for the Mars2013 analogue mission by the Austrian Space Forum to Erfoud, Morocco, the Aouda.X analogue space suit has a sister in the form of Aouda.S. This is a slightly less sophisticated suit meant primarily to assist Aouda.X operations and be able to study the interactions between two (analogue) astronauts in similar suits.
The Aouda.X and Aouda.S space suits have been named after the fictional princess from the Jules Verne's 1873 novel Around the World in Eighty Days and can be followed on Facebook. A public display mock-up of Aouda.X (called Aouda.D) is currently on display at the Dachstein Ice Cave in Obertraun, Austria, after the experiments done there in 2012.
NASA Constellation Space Suit system
On August 2, 2006, NASA indicated plans to issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the design, development, certification, production, and sustaining engineering of the Constellation Space Suit to meet the needs of the Constellation Program. NASA foresees a single suit capable of supporting: survivability during launch, entry and abort; zero-gravity EVA; lunar surface EVA; and Mars surface EVA.
On June 11, 2008, NASA awarded a USD$745 million contract to Oceaneering International to create the new space suit.
A suitport is a theoretical alternative to an airlock, designed for use in hazardous environments and in human spaceflight, especially planetary surface exploration. In a suitport system, a rear-entry space suit is attached and sealed against the outside of a spacecraft, such that an astronaut can enter and seal up the suit, then go on EVA, without the need for an airlock or depressurizing the spacecraft cabin. Suitports require less mass and volume than airlocks, provide dust mitigation, and prevent cross-contamination of the inside and outside environments. Patents for suitport designs were filed in 1996 by Philip Culbertson Jr. of NASA's Ames Research Center and in 2003 by Joerg Boettcher, Stephen Ransom, and Frank Steinsiek.
Astronaut Glove Challenge
There are certain difficulties in designing a dexterous space suit glove and there are limitations to the current designs. For this reason, the Centennial Astronaut Glove Challenge was created to build a better glove. Competitions have been held in 2007 and 2009, and another is planned. The 2009 contest required the glove to be covered with a micro-meteorite layer.
The oldest space fiction ignored the problems of traveling through a vacuum, and launched its heroes through space without any special protection. In the later 19th century, however, a more realistic brand of space fiction emerged, in which authors have tried to describe or depict the space suits worn by their characters. These fictional suits vary in appearance and technology, and range from the highly authentic to the utterly improbable.
A very early fictional account of space suits can be seen in Garrett P. Serviss' novel Edison's Conquest of Mars (1898). Later comic book series such as Buck Rogers (1930s) and Dan Dare (1950s) also featured their own takes on space suit design. Science fiction authors such as Robert A. Heinlein contributed to the development of fictional space suit concepts.