Have Spacesuit, Will Jazzercise
Last week, NASA announced the new spacesuit for it’s Artemis program. The suit, which actually has been in the works in various forms for many years, is called the xEMU, or “Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit.”
The suit is an evolution beyond the current Enhanced EMU used on the ISS in much the same way the EMU was an evolution beyond the A7L used during Apollo.
Much about the suit is familiar, and much falls short of what NASA would like, but as it often the case with NASA hardware, it’s not bad and it will definitely work.
Like the EMU, the xEMU used a rigid upper torso unit and comes in sized components to fit many astronauts. Unlike the EMU, the limbs are also rigid and move using angles bearings, like the joints in HVAC ducts, only much smoother.
In additon, the xEMU:
- Weighs less than the current Enhanced EMU.
- Supports a wider range of motion, allowing astronauts to reach over their heads and bend down and touch the ground.
- Allows much easier entry through a hatch in the back of the rigid upper torso unit. The hatch is also the life support pack. This design is easily adapted to a suit port, in which the suit stays outside all the time, and docks to the side of the habitat for ingress and egress, radically reducing the amount of dust tracked inside.
- Allows the astronaut to step in an immediately start working in a pure oxygen atmosphere at 8 psi, high enough to eliminate danger of the bend when coming from a higher pressure nitrogen oxygen habitat atmosphere. The suit then lowers the pressure to 3 psi gradually, allowing the astronaut to slowly shed the nitrogen dissolved in their tissues without needing the pre-breathe oxygen before their EVA.
- Audio communication is through sophisticated microphones mounted inside the helmet, and similar to those used for headset-free speech recognition, so there is no need for the astronaut to wear a “snoopy cap.”
- The emergency oxygen supply is filled to the same 3,000 psi as the primary instead of the 6,000 psi used in the A7L OPS carried on Apollo missions, which made it impossible to recharge the OPS in space. It also made it more likely that the OPS would explode.
- Like the Enhanced EMU, the xEMU is modular to make it easy to size to different astronauts.
- The CO2 scubber in the xPLSS life support pack is regenerative, and can essentially function as long as it has power with no need to replace consumable lithium hydroxide canisters.
- In an emergency, keep the occupant alive for up to six days. Yeah…think about that for a moment.