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After attending a very interesting “Introduction into Spacesuits”-course, I got the chance to work as a volunteer at the OeWF suit lab in Innsbruck. The task was to redesign the exoskeleton for the analog astronauts. At first I hadn’t an idea, what’s expecting me.
At the beginning of my summer holidays I had a meeting with Gernot Grömer who introduced me in an excellent and enthusiastic team at the suit lab and gave me a short overview of what he wants me to do:
- Read all the documents he gave to me (quite a lot and oh what a wonder – everything in English – so I had to improve my English first)
- Develop a new exoskeleton consisting of a pair of elbow-joints and a pair of knee-joints for the Aouda spacesuit simulator
Sounds simple so far and off we go…
After nearly two weeks of reading theoretical stuff about “space suit joint values”, “torques” and even more complex things like this, I got a vague idea what to do. A first design with a CAD-program (computer-aided design program) and another meeting with Gernot Grömer were done and the idea grew more specific.
But why all this work and investigation? Why is an exoskeleton needed for an analog astronaut?
Simply spoken, a pressurised space suit makes it harder to bend an arm or a leg for an astronaut because of shifting pressurised air inside the space suit and the textile layers of the suit working against deformation. But because Aouda is not set under pressure, we have to simulate this effect and for this reason an exoskeleton is needed.
After another four weeks of CAD-redesigning and improving, a final design was established and a prototype was produced. It’s fascinating, holding a piece of shaped aluminium in your hands. This piece, developed by yourself on a computer, gets real after milling, drilling, threat cutting and a lot of additional working steps. I hope it is still fascinating after we have tried to assemble all pieces together…
The new designed elbow-joint consists of one joint with a spring core and two rails. Each rail for one limb and because of torque-requirements the knee-joint elements are doubled.
The limb-rails will be produced out of high quality steel, shaped by laser-cutting. The attachment of the assembly to the arms and legs will be done by leather-straps with Velcro for adjusting.
We are looking forward to finish the exoskeleton during this October-
I hope no one of the analog astronauts is killing me after a first try-on session and the realisation how hard their new live as an astronaut will be because of to the new exoskeleton ;-)
Thanks to every member of the space suit lab team in Innsbruck. Special thanks to Julia Neuner and Gernot Grömer for their support. I had a great time and hopefully it will last a bit longer.
Author: Benjamin Knaus, physics-student at the University of Innsbruck
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