NASA is preparing to send a woman and a man to the moon in 2024, the first mission to the lunar surface in 52 years.
The new spacesuit being developed for this mission is sleek and high-tech, with a number of features not available in the era of the Apollo lunar mission.
Here’s what you need to know about the spacesuit that will be used on the Artemis lunar mission and how it will take lunar exploration to the next level.
On December 14, 1972, when Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt blasted off the lunar surface, no one in their right mind would have believed it would take half a century to do it again. But decades later, NASA is only now preparing for the upcoming lunar Artemis missions to finally return people to the moon.
NASA is working with its various partners to develop the necessary technologies for this to happen, including the creation of the giant SLS rocket, the lunar lander (a project led by Blue Origin seems to be progressing well), the lunar vehicle and tools for collecting and sampling water ice …
And of course, NASA is also working on its new lunar spacesuit, which it calls the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or xEMU for short.
NASA recently revealed the cost of the Artemis program, saying the project would require $ 28 billion in funding from 2021 to 2025.
Of this cost, $ 518 million will be allocated for the development and production of the new “xEMU” spacesuit. This is a high cost, given that NASA has previous experience building spacesuits for the Apollo missions and those currently used by astronauts on the International Space Station.
Indeed, “xEMU” is visually similar to the space suits worn by astronauts during spacewalks, but the comparison ends there.
“The XEMU was designed from the ground up to be safer and less likely to crash than any of its predecessors,” explains Chris Hansen, manager of EVA at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. (EVA stands for activity in outer space, which in NASA parlance means everything that is done outside the vehicle, whether in Earth orbit or on the surface of another planet.)
“When going beyond Earth orbit and onto the lunar surface, the suits will be exposed to higher levels of radiation and extreme temperatures than our current spacesuit used on the ISS. The new spacesuits have more sophisticated electronics than the Apollo lunar spacesuits, so we have to be very careful when choosing materials that protect the electronics from cosmic radiation and they must be designed to work in such an environment, ”Hansen explained.
For the Artemis 3 mission (the first to include a crewed landing), NASA wants to land its astronauts near the moon’s south pole. This region is constantly in the shadows, so the team will have a better chance of finding and collecting water ice – a valuable natural resource, not to mention an important object of scientific research.
But this place on the lunar surface is rather cold – much colder than anything that the Apollo astronauts had to deal with. Accordingly, “xEMU” is designed with these conditions in mind.
The xEMU will also be required to protect the astronauts of the Artemis mission from ionizing radiation. At the same time, astronauts will still need to research, adjust equipment, and conduct scientific experiments. Spacesuits will also have to endure a whole week in these conditions, since this is how long each mission on the lunar surface should last.
Accordingly, the suits are designed to withstand a wide range of temperatures, from -157 degrees Celsius in the shade to 121 degrees Celsius with full sun visibility.
The suit’s portable life support system (PLSS) can be worn like a backpack, providing energy and breathable air, and removing exhaled carbon dioxide and excess moisture.
The PLSS, in addition to regulating the internal temperature and pressure, will constantly monitor the suit for any problems and issue a warning if something seems suspicious. “xEMU” is built with a large inventory of redundant systems such as electronics to minimize potential problems.
Two new technologies in xEMU that have never been used in a spacesuit before.
One of them is a new cooling system called SWME. It uses evaporation of water to cool the spacesuits and the astronauts inside them, rather than the ice sublimation process that was used in all previous spacesuit designs. This system is much more reliable than the existing sublimators used at EMU.
The second new technology is called “Rapid Amine”, or RCA, and is a new type of carbon dioxide scrubber.
This system continually dumps CO2 overboard, so there will never be a limitation on the duration of an open spacewalk due to too much CO2 accumulation.
Modern suits have a limited amount of CO2 that they can absorb, and this is often a limiting factor in how long an astronaut can stay out of the spacecraft during a spacewalk.
You should also consider moon dust, called regolith, which is dangerous in the form of small, sharp and corrosive particles. The new suit will be designed so that dust will not enter the interior of the suit and destroy the suit’s life support systems.
NASA believes the Artemis lunar program will serve as the starting point for a crewed mission to Mars, and xEMU is being developed with this in mind. The suit contains a variety of elements that will allow astronauts to stroll the lifeless surface of the Red Planet.
NASA plans to test the new spacesuit on the ISS in 2023.