One of the more prescient of Marshal Savage’s technology suggestions in the original TMP was the idea of the development of the mechanical counter-pressure suit as an alternative to the conventional pressure suit used by astronauts since early in the First Space Age. Savage clearly believed that in order for human beings to inhabit space effectively, their casual access and ease of mobility in the space environment was key and the conventional pressure suit has long demonstrated itself to be one of the greatest obstacles to that. In TMP2 we take the stance that direct human activity in the space environment –EVA activity– is likely to be far less common than either Marshal Savage or the national space agencies have generally envisioned thanks to the advent of increasingly sophisticated telerobotics that, though obviously not likely to become as dexterous and flexible as the human being any time soon, are still likely to be more practical in cost-performance for at least 90% of all in-space activity. A robot can remain on-site working in the space environment continuously, which is something no organic human being will ever be able to do. Still, there will be human EVA, even if rare and not always done for practical reasons. And the limitations and cost-benefit challenges of the conventional pressure suit will become increasingly significant as the number of people living in space grows. There needs to be a better suit technology.
Mechanical counter-pressure suit technology has actually been around about as long as conventional pressure suit technology, its principle of providing skin-tight compression on the body through tensioned materials rather than pneumatic pressure quite old and both its virtues and limitations well understood by scientists and engineers. National space agencies have done considerable research and experimentation of the concept and have a long history of successful vacuum-chamber demonstration. But the concept was always considered somewhat more ‘radical’ than the pressure suit for, what seems to be, primarily cultural and political, rather than technical, reasons and has long been the subject of much controversy in the US space agency, with engineers forming factional groups over the issue and some individuals seeming to dedicate their careers to the ‘debunking’ of what is a simple and well-proven technology they just don’t seem to ever ‘get’.
However, with the tentative emergence of a Second Space Age driven by entrepreneurship, the tide of opinion on the matter seems to have shifted in favor of the mechanical counter-pressure technology and it would seem a consensus among the majority of the current generation of space engineers and space advocates that the technology does represent the most likely next-step of space suit development. A number of development projects are well underway, in particular at the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology whose ‘BioSuit’ program has now given its name to the general definition of the technology. Consequently, we have adopted this name ourselves for our own Asgard BioSuit concept.
Mechanical counter-pressure suits rely on the use of skin-tight materials in custom-made/fit body-stockings that feature special weaves of composite materials that confine local vectors of elasticity to match human kinematics. A looser layer of protective materials then covers this skin-tight material and supports mechanical connectors to interface gloves, boots, and helmet, pressure hoses to link these few pneumatically pressurized zones to a life-support module, as well as a body cooling system and active electronics and fiber-optic systems. Optional ‘body armor’ can be attached by Velcro to the outer surface of the suit, much like the strap-on protective gear of motorcycle enthusiasts. In the MIT and other designs a rigid shell torso (or partial-torso) carapace serves as interface between life-support module, suit, and helmet, providing a more rigid interface for the helmet whose pressurized volume includes the neck area –a more problematic area for the skin-tight suit and any transition between the mechanical counter-pressure zones and pneumatic pressure zone around the head. These rigid components would be standardized in size and thus interchangeable and readily mass-produced. (though by the time of Asgard a very large percentage of artifacts will commonly be manufactured-on-demand anyway) The end result is a suit that –ironically- looks very much more like those of classic science fiction than today’s space suits and which allows for orders of magnitude greater freedom of movement, radically reduced fatigue, easy in-field repair, and –in theory– radically reduced fabrication costs compared to the multi-million-dollar space suits of the present.
In the Asgard BioSuit design, the chief innovations over other BioSuit concepts would be associated with fabrication and systems technology, helmet design, and the communications systems used. By the time of large scale Asgard settlement, the first functional generation of nanotechnology is likely to be available. The dominant form of this technology would be the ‘nanochip’; an integrated circuit-like device performing specialized mechanosynthesis processes using fixed-position nanomechanisms. Producing a revolution in systems design paralleling that of the integrated circuit, these devices will see particular use in fabber processing heads, synthetic fiber (and particularly nanofiber) ‘spinnerettes’, and fixed-mounted in-line chemical processing systems. The end result for BioSuit design may be radical reductions in the scale and complexity of life-support modules by virtue of binding respiratory gasses into high-density liquid (given dual-use as cooling fluids) or solid materials and their possible integration directly into helmet or carapace components. Also, easier nanofiber fabrication means much thinner, lighter, and radically tougher suit materials while the use of impact-response bi-phase materials that instantly harden with impact to resist damage may further protect the wearer.
Nanomembrane materials –essentially extremely strong elastomerics– may replace typical helmet materials allowing for an extremely light, flexible, thin, balloon-like semi-rigid helmet that is as puncture-resistant as steel. Made dichroic and integrating organic LED or projected HUD display, this balloon helmet may offer unprecedented transparency and lightness. Thin as it is, this helmet would, because of its large pressurized volume and semi-rigid composition, provide generally adequate blunt impact resistance but supplementary head impact protection may be offered by use of a bi-phase foam ‘coif’ or skull-cap.
Other helmets, though, may take a very different tact for the sake of protection in hazardous environments and situations. Combined with sophisticated body armor, an armored variant helmet would feature an opaque armored flip-down visor that integrates a set of tiny digital cameras whose multi-spectrum stereo-image is presented on the interior HUD screen. Such helmets and armored suits would be employed in construction and mining areas, when handling potentially explosive materials, in high radiation areas, and during hazardous planetary activities such as rock climbing.
Sublingual communication would be a key feature of the Asgard BioSuit, the technology for this anticipated to be well developed by the time of the Aquarius phase for many terrestrial personal communications applications. A neck sensor collar integrated with the BioSuit inner skin would be used to detect lesser myoelectric impulses associated with the larynx and which mimic, at lower power, the impulses of speech when a person thinks about speech yet doesn’t actually make a sound. These impulses can be translated by computer analysis into text data used in various ways. It can be directed as conversational control for computer systems or it can be converted to digitally synthesized speech mimicking the user’s normal voice, allowing for silent conversations by digital communications and even automatic language translation. This may be further enhanced by combination with digital motion sensing in the suit as a whole and in-helmet stereoscopic display, allowing for sublingual speech and gesture control and even for temporary use of telepresence control of nearby machines. Integrated to the Asgard habitat’s ubiquitous computing environment, the BioSuit would offer unprecedented integration between the human astronaut in EVA, his attendant machines, and the ‘information space’ of the entire habitat.
- Urban Tree Housing Concepts
- Asgard Digitial Infrastructure
- Carrier Pallets
- WristRocket Personal Mobility Unit
- RocShaw Personal Mobility Units
- Pallet Truck
- ZipLine Tether Transport System
- MagTrack Transport System
- SkyGarden and SkyFarm Systems
- Meat Culturing
- Microgravity Food Processors
- Pools and Baths in Orbit
- Solar Sails
- Plasma and Fusion Propulsion