The next generation of spacesuits is here. Engineers at Kansas State University are working on a prototype suit that can monitor an astronaut’s vital signs by providing power to integrated electronic components. What makes this spacesuit so unique, though, is that it gets its power from an astronaut’s body heat.
This new suit is a replica of the spacesuit used in the now-defunct space shuttle program. Using this model, engineers want to convert energy generated from an astronaut’s body heat into power for on-board electronics like sensors and radios. Batteries are too dangerous to use with spacesuits because of the oxygen they generate, so an alternate energy source is necessary.
The team is also building sensors into the suit that will measure how astronauts’ bodies change in space. These sensors will be able to record information on changes in an astronaut’s movement, pulse rate, blood oxygen levels, and respiration. The idea is that these sensors will report back to the space station via a wireless network, helping keep astronauts healthy on space missions and tracking data long term. Steven Warren, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering said:
“This project is a good example of how when you do something in space, everything needs to be rethought — human elements and nonhuman elements of the system. We have a lot to learn about human physiology and what happens to a person as they physically change in a reduced-gravity environment.”
Thanks to a generous grant from NASA, the prototype suit is undergoing testing with 3D electromagnetic field simulators. If all goes well, future spacesuits could be using this technology soon, perhaps on the first manned mission to Mars. For the fashion-conscious, though, let’s hope the new suits will also be more stylish.