You've probably heard something like this before, that astronauts use spacesuits that cost over $1 million, and that spacesuits are a cutting-edge product of integrated human design.
In short, the design of spacesuits has evolved over decades and is still being refined and further developed today, but why has the look of spacesuits remained almost unchanged over the years and the production volume is low?
The first thing we need to understand is that space construction and cosmic exploration can only be carried out by countries with very strong comprehensive national power, and that the design and functionality of space suits need to be developed and tested over many years. Combined with historical reasons and various factors, there are only three countries that carry out complete development and use of space suits today, namely China, the United States and Russia.
How difficult is the design of spacesuits? Why do spacesuits take many years of research and development to try out? What should a qualified spacesuit look like? How are spacesuits developed? In this article, we will answer these questions from two aspects: the design history of spacesuits and the R&D design of spacesuits, and then we will reveal the secret from them and see why only three countries in the world today can produce spacesuits: China, the United States and Russia.
Development concept of space suits
Speaking of spacesuits have to say that the U.S. manned flight program and related space missions, the Apollo program, the Gemini program and Skylab are the key to later human missions in space. This includes the early Soviet testing of manned spacecraft, and the derivative development of high altitude flight suits.
One of the first spacesuits used by mankind was the Soviet SK-1 worn by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, which was further developed by the Russian Aviation Agency and designed and upgraded into the Orlan series of spacesuits and the new generation Sokol series of spacesuits. These suits mainly performed launch and landing missions, as well as space station walking missions, and later, after the construction of the International Space Station was completed, these two series became the mainstay of Russian spacesuits.
The United States was no worse off than the Soviet Union in terms of investment in spacesuit design, and it was the success of Soviet manned flights that arguably reinforced the U.S. manned program and space suit development efforts. In terms of funding, the U.S. space suits were developed to the tune of $1 billion for almost every set that was officially produced.
From the beginning of the Gemini program, the United States is preparing its own spacesuits, the U.S. Navy and NASA cooperation, the most began to bring their own high-altitude flight suit to study and test. This flight suit is mainly used in jet aircraft, functional aspects of pressure resistance, but during suborbital testing, engineers found that the suit can not be used as an astronaut suit.
The high-altitude flight suit is not only thin, with only two layers of composite weave, but the suit is also very bulky and must be attached to the umbilical device, which is quite inconvenient to move. Considering that space missions at this time were mainly performed extravehicular activities (EVA), the initial versions of the spacesuits were based on EVA missions. All the way to the later IEVA, that is, intra- and extra-vehicular activity tasks are based on this spacesuit to upgrade the development work.
In accordance with the advance mission plan and use scenario considerations, NASA designed the EVA spacesuit with safety and reliability in mind. Extremely low temperatures, electromagnetic radiation, cosmic rays, micrometeoroids, high intensity sunlight, etc. were all issues that needed to be addressed. And the astronauts' working level mainly involves construction, repair, maintenance and setting up or monitoring experiments.
This raises the design of the spacesuit to ensure the above two requirements, but also must have sufficient flexibility and mobility, due to the loss of gravitational effect, how to make the astronauts move easily are engineers and scientists need to solve the problem.
In further design and development work, NASA took into account the length of space missions performed by astronauts, as well as information dug up from the Soviet side, and the development of spacesuits went beyond the average person's imagination.
Why is the spacesuit a cutting-edge product of integrated human design, continue reading next and you'll know.
The world's most powerful overalls
There is little difference between NASA's spacesuits and the Soviet Union's spacesuits in terms of functionality and integrated modules and garment design, mainly in terms of the nature of the mission to classify the working mode of the suit.
Unlike general work clothes, the spacesuit we see is actually an integrated woven combination of life support systems and protective devices, and there is actually a suit inside the spacesuit. This suit is the key to putting on the suit, and is the prep work, this garment is called the "pressure suit". It ensures sufficient body mobility and protects the astronaut's body from environmental influences.
The pressure garment is integrated with a cooling and drying device, which is mainly water-cooled circulation for cooling, and the woven fabric is mainly elastic spandex. The entire cycle of equipment during the work to take away the astronaut's excess heat, to keep the suit dry inside without water spray.
And the spandex woven fabric and diapers with inner straps can help astronauts wick away sweat and body fluids, which helps the astronauts' blood circulation. Most critically, it maintains the internal pressure of the body, especially the bladder.
The basic structure inside the spacesuit is much the same and not too different. Turning to the external integrated equipment, this is where the spacesuit design is most difficult and consumes the most money.
Life support systems have been troubling scientists for a long time and have not found a good way to solve them. Later in the Apollo program missions, manned test missions helped scientists and engineers obtain a lot of data.
The life support system contains mainly pressurized oxygen tanks, carbon dioxide removal devices, and an additional filter tank with lithium hydroxide. The whole set of equipment is connected through the suit's external backpack, connecting the entire ventilation system, power supply, radio, warning system and water cooling module. Finally, a sturdy shell is applied and the suit becomes the one we see most often.
Of course, head protection and woven layers of clothing are equally important. Helmets are manufactured with traditional plastic blow molding technology, but this is added to polycarbonate particles, this polymer material has a high refractive index, add some additives to have a high flame retardant effect, and their production costs are not yet high.
In terms of the weave of the suit, a single integrated module of the spacesuit has 14 layers of material and is capable of reaching up to 16 layers of protection. The woven fabric contains a variety of synthetic polymers, the innermost for nylon warp knitting material, another layer for the elastic wearable polymer spandex composition.
The nylon woven fabric also has a layer that will be coated with polyurethane, and the polyester layer material will be coated with a polyester material. These two layers of fabric will participate in pressure balancing and pressure suppression, and work together with other fabrics to complete the protection.
In addition to the use of conventional fabrics, there are also aluminized polyester film, Kevlar fabric, neoprene and many other waterproof, anti-pull, wear-resistant and scratch-resistant materials. Finally, a combination of hand and machine processing to complete the production of the entire suit, each suit of each layer of synthetic fibers are tightly compiled together, and then cut into the appropriate shape, and in the circuit integration module and life support system to complete the connection.
These elements do not sound difficult, so why are there not many countries in the world that can make a complete space suit?
Aerospace suit triumvirate
Completing the design and development of space suits is not easy, it requires fieldwork and space data analysis, and in terms of historical aspects and social context, not many countries have been able to conduct space mission construction and human spaceflight on their own from the 1930s to the present.
The Soviet Union and the United States were the space powers of the 20th century. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, European aviation was handed over to the European Space Agency and Aeroflot, respectively, but the main core technology remained in Russian hands.
The United States needless to say, from the 50s onwards in the pounding of their own technology, money is not afraid of things, space funding this piece and have the support of Congress, and also during the Apollo moon landings also received widespread public support, the country's efforts to complete the Apollo moon landings. This is a unique action in human history, during the accumulated experience is also quite rich.
China started late in this area and was limited in every way, and then after the Soviet Union left China, China began its own research and development work. Also thanks to the Soviet Union's former mentoring work, including work exchanges, China has some pioneering experience in space missions.
In addition, in the design of space suits, China's space suits basically adopted the research and development design of Sokol space suits, and later transformed and upgraded step by step, and now China also has its own space suits.
The development and design of spacesuits also involves the whole upstream and downstream, from manufacturers, raw material purchase, research and development, laboratory testing and so on dozens of links need to be precise and error-free. Taking NASA's spacesuits as an example, the subsequent upgrade of the A7LB spacesuit involved more than 80 manufacturers, and the smallest parts were no more than 0.4 mm.
Therefore, the development and manufacturing of space suits is not as simple as one might think. In the meantime, new spacesuits continue to be designed. The advent of commercial rockets and the more detailed requirements of future space missions present new challenges for spacesuits. Cost funding, controllability, and precise operation are all areas that need further refinement.
When facing the starry sea in the future, I hope everyone will have the opportunity to put on an astronaut suit and go to space for exploration, the era belonging to human beings is about to open.