Mars Spacesuits 3D Printed from Digital Body Scans

NASA Advanced Concepts has funded research for a high performance spacesuit for future Mars Astronauts. Dr. Bonnie Dunbar is a former NASA astronaut and is now a professor of Aerospace Engineering at Texas A&M. Some of her fellow astronauts couldn’t fit in an Extra Vehicular Activity suit – more commonly known as a spacesuit. Her system will enable a spacesuit tailored to their own specific body. NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program provides $175,000 to fund the research over the next nine months. It doesn’t actually utilize high-tech digitized thread to create spacesuits. Instead, it utilizes the “Digital Thread” framework commonly used in the industrial internet of things settings. The best way to describe the “Digital Thread” is to think of it as a piece of data that connects an individual part through all the design, manufacturing, and delivery processes.

Texas A&M will investigate the feasibility of manufacturing “custom” cost-effective high-performance exploration spacesuits for Mars and beyond utilizing the Digital Thread (DT), which integrates digital analytic components for manufacturing in development of the final Spacesuit.

The vision is a “digital human scan to digital design/analyses to robotic manufacture”.

This approach would address several problems facing deep space travel, in particular:
1) the ability to rapidly design and manufacture Extravehicular Activity (EVA) space suits which are best suited to the anthropometrics of the individual crewmember (male and female) in any gravitational environment;

2) the need to build digital twins which are continually modified based on lessons learned and design optimization,

3) the ability for crew in deep space to manufacture or repair some EVA suit components in-situ based on digital files, and

4) the ability to digitally incorporate the EVA suit into the entire Mars Mission Architecture and Concept of Operations, including resupply, in-situ repair and fabrication and the repurposing of in-situ materials.

The planned Mars architectures for placing humans on the surface in the 2030’s envisions nearly daily spacewalks in EVA suits. EVA suits are considered to be anthropometrically shaped “space ships” which must protect the crew from the extreme environments of space, while at the same time, providing the mobility required to effectively perform both engineering and scientific exploration tasks outside of the habitat or the spacecraft. Soft fabric “custom” suits were manufactured for all early spaceflight crewmembers (Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Skylab) prior to the Space Shuttle Program. Apollo era crewmembers reported to be very satisfied with their custom suits, including those on the last mission, Apollo 17.

To support the Space Shuttle Program, a “modular” plug and play suit, the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) was designed. The initial inventory included 5 Hard Upper Torso (HUT) chest sizes, 1 size helmet, adjustable arm and leg lengths but only two diameters, two size boots with adjustable inserts, and custom gloves. A total of 18 suits were built to support nearly 200 astronauts. For a variety of reasons, not all selected and trained astronauts could fit into or function in the suit, and many crewmembers experienced shoulder injuries, pressure points, finger nail loss, and nearly a 50% loss of effective strength due to the pressure resistance of the suit.

A return to custom EVA suits seems warranted. But how to do this in a rapid cost effective manner? Is it possible to utilize current scanning technologies, human factor studies, physiological data, additive manufacturing, robotics, and modern digital design and analysis tools?

The primary aim of this feasibility project is to answer to those questions by determining how the “Digital Thread” manufacturing process, which is being deployed in other non-human manufacturing spheres, can be used to develop a digital manufacturing stream which will provide any sized or shaped crewmember (or future tourist) with an optimized EVA space suit.

The study will identify all key components of a spacesuit and current manufacturing technologies;
map those to DT components;
identify technology gaps;
benchmark required technologies and capabilities in industry, academia and government; and
develop a conceptional DT model for future Spacesuit Development and operational support.

The digital thread could also include components to model suits in any given planetary environment and to model logistical requirements (supply and consumables). Example digital technologies/components which will be evaluated include 3D-Additive Manufacturing, human body IR/Photogrammetric scanning, digital twins, Computer Aided Design, model based engineering, human factors/kinematics models, and robotic/automated 3D garment manufacturing.

Range of Motion (ROM) Analysis for Pressure Garments (EVA and LES) using 3D Photogrammetric Motion Capture

Understanding work envelope (reach) and range of motion (ROM) is a critical component of pressure garment (EVA and LES) design. In comparison to methods used in the Apollo program involving the use of goniometers and 2D still photography, methods for evaluating suit ROM have significantly advanced in the past two decades with the utilization of 3D motion capture. These methods more accurately model the constraints that an EVA suit, for example, applies to nominal human ROM and reach. Current research methods for evaluating suit ROM utilize a Vicon camera system to track reflective markers placed on a subject performing a motion sequence, which are then identified as coordinatized points in a 3D space.

The Aerospace Human Systems Laboratory (AHSL) at Texas A&M University has developed a new process for visualizing and analyzing ROM and reach volume envelopes utilizing a 3D photogrammetric scanning instrument. Specifically, a 10-camera scanning system is used to capture a 20-second motion sequence of a human subject at 10 images/second, resulting in 200 3D images. Coupled with supporting computer programs, any anthropometric point of interest can be landmarked on the human body or suit scan, coordinatized, automatically tracked across the motion sequence, and then plotted to analyze the subject’s reach and ROM in unsuited, suited unpressurized, and suited pressurized configurations. Any decrements to performance for any size of subject in any suit size could theoretically be modelled by this method. The application of this strategy to a scanned human in an unpressurized and pressurized Russian Sokol launch and entry suit is also discussed.

Written by Brian Wang,

25 thoughts on “Mars Spacesuits 3D Printed from Digital Body Scans”

  1. That's why I say we have no hope for change except by force. This country has been taken over by corrupt politicians for over 45 years. Everyone one that in government from the past 45 years has baggage. They all need to be put on trial and investigated.i do home work ….. .

  2. very little can resist such hyper-projectiles. We can only take comfort in low probabilities and reduced exposures. Time is of the essence and probelm solving acuity is best accomplished by hands-on and on-the-scene EVAs in many cases, though hopefully fewer going forward.

  3. Neal Stephenson's novel "Termination Shock" has "Earth Suits" that people can wear to survive in Earth environments made nasty due to climate change.

  4. probably a heavily labour-cost weighted program. My understanding is that without constant occupancy, most complex inhabitable stations and outposts, with our current tech, cannot be supported without EVA work.

  5. but of course. I choose a lunar regolith bouncy-walk on an irradiated afternoon (or however the sun moves in relation to the moon) over a handful of quickie sub-orbital pops on Sir Branson's or ex-Chief Bezos 'rides' any time.

  6. of course moon tourism. reduced gravity and bizarre required gait is challenge and excitement for all who visit.

  7. mmm… risk and survivability? one 1-inch meteroid or even space dust moving at a few miles per second.
    – Maintenance pod and its inhabitant?- survival likely and moderate risk
    – EVA with tools?- survival unlikely and exceptional risk

    – robot/ drone? -survival who cares? and low risk

  8. There have been many studies at NASA, etc., on the surface, above-ground in-atmosphere (such as it is), sub-orbital, and orbital work areas and the appropriateness of the mobility, recoverability, dexterity, and robustness of various vehicles, tools, and systems — the human in a space suit is truly the most cumbersome and risky. silliness for sure.

  9. Agreed. Suits for tourists and adventure-types only. Even survival suits would be undermined by making them so 'well-fitting'. Practicality of function over comfort or human-ness.

  10. Never understood the need for a well-fitting suit in such hostile environments. Human bodies are not the most nimble, sensor-laden, and robust forms so why fake it by putting a super-skin around them. Future spacewalks, moon/ mars surface jaunts, and other such forays away from base should be in a nimble, super-dextrous pod (in the comfort of your own unitard) -or- by remote drone -or- fully-realized service vehicle. We are certainly past the time of EVA being the best way of repair or modification/ upgrade. Weird.

  11. Worse than that. These are astronauts, so we can assume that there is a fairly tight variation in terms of physical fitness, and mostly a limited age range as well.
    They had to cover much less than 95% of human variation.

    On the other hand, I suspect that most clothing doesn't need to do anything like match the bending angle of your fingers or wrists, so it's a lot harder than your average clothing range.

  12. Conceivably, there could be a design that shrinks like that shrink tubing for electrical connections. One time use, but easy to put on.
    Maybe multi-use if it was made of synthetic muscle such as electroactive polymer. As long as there is an electric voltage applied, it constricts. When turned off it relaxes and you can extricate your body.

  13. Yes, there are elastic suits that basically support your skin, (Which is OK being exposed to vacuum so long as it has that support.) they're tight enough that you can maintain enough internal pressure, and have the advantage that you can still sweat and so they don't need cooling systems.

    The down side is that they're very custom, not very forgiving of weight changes, and a bear to put on. Aside from that they work great, apparently.

  14. It just occurred to me that these suits could be useful on Mars.
    1. We don't know the effect on the human body from space missions that long. What if the suit no longer fits?
    2. Make the suit stretchable or intentionally baggy.
    3. Have a 3-D suit making machine waiting on Mars before the first people get there. You'll probably need it over time anyway.
    4. If it takes a day to manufacture a suit, and there are 6 astronauts, start scanning them in 6 days before they land and transmit the data to Mars.

  15. There are supposedly suits that could be tight on the skin so that there is no air in the gap, so some stretch in the fabric would allow movement without filling up with more air. But these would be extremely custom, it seems.

  16. It would not be much of a spacesuit if they did not account for this. It is kinda basic. It just has to flex in ways that the volume does not change. It sounds simple, but it isn't. Still, this has been a known requirement since before anyone went into space.

    A "spacesuit" for Earth, for humans anyway, has no such issues, of course. Well, there are very deep diving suits that address pressure. I have seen them in pictures but haven't seen any coverage of anyone using them for some time.
    I suspect the robots do mostly what those suits enabled with less cost and danger.
    And, of course, there are flight-suits for high altitude or high-G stuff.

  17. In all seriousness, besides Rufus smart comment, the problem I have seen discussed meaningfully is under pressure suits get rigid and become tubular. Actively of passively countering this is the real problem. It's pointless being in a suit that is rigid.

  18. Sounds to me like the primary problem with their modular suit was that they had absurdly too few sizes of modules. Not remotely enough to cover even a 95% human variation.

  19. I would have chuckled about this a few years back, but after the fear and hysteria of the first days of covid19, and knowing what people actually donned trying to fend it off, I'm not laughing anymore.

    I perfectly see a fair number of people actually buying these, as prepping for a biohazard ridden world.

  20. Oh no, I shouldn't have eaten that extra pecan pie in the agricultural dome party. Now I won't fit in my spacesuit!

    But I presume they have some degree of flexibility?

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