A fully operational space suit analogue for use in a neutral buoyancy environment has been developed and tested by the University of Maryland’s Space Systems Laboratory. Repeated manned operations in the Neutral Buoyancy Research Facility have shown the MX-2 suit analogue to be a realistic simulation of operational EVA pressure suits. The suit is routinely used for EVA simulation, providing reasonable joint restrictions, work envelopes, and visual and audio environments comparable to those of current EVA suits. Improved gloves and boots, communications carrier assembly, in-suit drink bag and harness system have furthered the semblance to EVA. Advanced resizing and ballasting systems have enabled subjects ranging in height from 5′8″ to 6′3″ and within a range of 120 lbs to obtain experience in the suit. Furthermore, integral suit instrumentation facilitates monitoring and collection of critical data on both the suit and the subject. Records of the LCG inlet and outlet temperatures, heart rate, air temperature and humidity provide quantitative performance metrics for comparison between tasks or between subjects. These quantitative measurements enable studies of metabolic workload, as well as alert test conductors to declines in performance, system failures or health emergencies.
There are numerous ongoing and near-term applications of the MX-2 to EVA research. These include human-robotic interactions at a variety of levels, from dexterous manipulator support of EVA operations to the direct integration of robotic arms onto the suit system. The MX-2 is also designed to facilitate bidirectional high-bandwidth communications for experimental assessment of advanced controls and displays to provide real-time training and support to the suited subject.
The MX-2 has proven itself as an extremely valuable tool, providing researchers with a low-cost analogue to obtain experience in simulated EVA. It is also a useful platform for investigating future EVA technologies.