Draper engineers are developing a system that can stop high altitude spinning via a network of sensors and control moment gyroscopes (CMGs).
Built as a potential life-saving safety feature, the system can help astronauts, skydivers, and space tourists, among others. For example, when skydivers are stuck in an uncontrollable spin while plummeting to Earth, they only have a few seconds until unconsciousness takes over.
“It’s hard for skydivers—or astronauts or space tourists ejecting at high altitude—to stop a spin, and a suit without the appropriate safety features could make the situation worse,” says Kevin Duda, Draper space systems engineer.
The CMGs integrate with sensors that can pinpoint a rotation’s direction and speed, according to Michele Carpenter, Draper guidance, navigation, and control engineer. The CMGs then counter the detected spin with their own motions.
“The basic idea is that if a torque induces a rotation on a person, a CMG can redirect the angular momentum of its own spinning mass to create a countertorque. As a result, the person should stop rotating,” says Carpenter.
During the design process, the team had to ensure the system could help in the worst of scenarios. Draper specifically points out one such occurrence—astronauts or space tourist spinning out of control within the high stratosphere, which ranges from 20 mi to 30 mi above Earth.
There is no atmosphere at such high altitudes, according to Draper, which means an individual stuck in a flat spin “would need a way to counter and slow their motion.”
“Equipping a spacesuit with a system that can minimize or arrest a flat spin will be critical for the coming age of space tourism,” says Shane Jacob, David Clark Company design manager.
This work builds upon Draper’s self-return astronaut navigation system from December 2017, lowering the chances of a dreaded lost in space scenario.