No matter how tempting a spacewalk may look, there's no denying that it is incredibly scary.
Staying attached to a cable and performing a set of tasks in outer space comes with countless risks that could threaten the life of an astronaut. In a new patent, defence giant Draper has detailed a tech that could one day cut back on these risks and save an astronaut's life, even if the crucial tether is detached and the astronaut is floating away.
The tech, dubbed "take me home", would essentially add self-return capabilities to the spacesuit and bring an astronaut back to a designated safe point in case of an accident or unexpected tether detachment, TechCrunch reports.
Once triggered either by the crew or the astronaut himself, the tech will determine the target position and navigate the astronaut back.
As there is no GPS in the harsh environment of space, the system would rely on a set of sensors to monitor movement, acceleration and relative position of the astronaut with respect to a fixed object such as the accompanying spacecraft.
Once the target location and return trajectory are finalised, the thrusters of the suit will automatically guide the astronaut towards home. Draper also imagines a scenario where the tech would deliver visual, auditory, and sensory cues to the astronaut through visor display to get him home.
"Giving astronauts a sense of direction and orientation in space is a challenge because there is no gravity and no easy way to determine which way is up and down," says Kevin Duda, a space system engineer at Draper. "Our technology improves mission success in space by keeping the crew safe."
The return trajectory of the suit would be determined after taking into account all life-governing factors such as level of oxygen and fuel in the thrusters available at that time.
Noting the advantage of the new system over conventional safety tech, Séamus Tuohy, director of space system at Draper, says: "The current spacesuit features no automatic navigation solution — it is purely manual — that could present a challenge to our astronauts if they are in an emergency."
For now, "take me home" is just a patent, and there is no word on when the technology might actually come into use. However, the tech could be put to other uses beyond space. For example, it could help deep sea divers or firefighters who might need navigation assistance in a burning building.