ESA is hoping to repeat the success of its first StarTiger project. This time the venue will be Tampere University of Technology in Finland, where the StarTiger2 project hopes to come up with ideas for 'intelligent' clothing for astronauts, capable of checking their health while they work.
The Institute of Electronics at Tampere University of Technology (TUT) already has many years experience in the research and development of 'smart' clothes and advanced electronics, and its laboratory facilities for design, testing and production are fully in line with the StarTiger requirements.
"The goal of StarTiger2 is to develop a truly usable 'smart' prototype suit, containing a physiological monitoring system," explains Eike Kircher, head of ESA's Basic Technology Research Programme (TRP), one of the drivers behind the StarTiger initiative. "We have named it the STAR-suit and it will be able to measure all vital health parameters of the person wearing it in near real time and for extended periods of time.
The physiological effects of the space environment and the wellbeing of astronauts have been of major concern throughout the history of space travel. Astronauts have their health status evaluated pre-flight and post flight as well as in-flight, but most in-flight checks are conducted as part of different test procedures and few continuous measurements are available.
This is why the smart clothing suit would be so useful, particularly as current ESA long-term plans call for human space missions beyond low Earth orbit. For instance, a 'smart' suit will be needed to monitor the status and location of astronauts carrying out extra-vehicular activities on Mars.
In a much shorter perspective, if successful the STAR-suit could be used in the new scientific Concordia Station in Antarctica. This already hosts ESA experiments, particularly those of interest to ESA's Aurora Programme.
The STAR-suit will combine a number of advanced technologies: physiological measurements; sensor, communication and packaging technologies; flexible PCB (printed circuit boards) and LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) materials; fabric materials and embedded electronics.
Unobtrusively, and without limiting movement, it should continuously monitor heart and respiratory rate and the user's movements and temperature. Additional parameters may include a vascular index and electrocardiogram (ECG), as well as a global positioning system for localisation.
The design should make use of intelligent textiles to ensure that the STAR-suit is comfortable, easily washable and long lasting. In addition, all user interfaces and communication systems will be integrated in the clothing to enable remote monitoring of the wearer's wellbeing.
"The final objective is to know in real-time and continuously the physiological status of the person being monitored without hindering what he or she has to do," adds Eike Kircher.
StarTiger – a new approach in technology research and development
ESA launched the successful StarTiger concept in 2002. It is an innovative approach for conducting technology research and development that brings together a small group of highly motivated and multidiscipline researchers. To help them come up with ideas this group is given full access to laboratory and production facilities, with no administrative distractions, for an intensive period of four to six months.
"With StarTiger we want to dramatically reduce turnaround time for state-of-the-art technology developments," emphasises Eike Kircher.
"The first project demonstrated the potential when we managed to make a scientific breakthrough in several areas of terahertz imaging technology in just four months, with huge potential both for space applications and for non-space systems."
As a result of the first StarTiger project, several possible applications are being explored, one start-up company has been created and a number of patents have been filed.
ESA and the TUT will commence recruiting the StarTiger2 team shortly.
Notes for editors:
* StarTiger is an acronym for 'Space Technology Advancements by Resourceful, Targeted and Innovative Groups of Experts and Researchers', a pioneering European Space Agency initiative under the Agency's Basic Technology Research Programme (TRP) to facilitate technological breakthrough and innovative research.
* Aurora is part of Europe's strategy for space, endorsed by the European Union Council of Research and the ESA Council in 2001. The primary objective of the Aurora Programme is to create, and then implement, a European long-term plan for the robotic and human exploration of the solar system, with Mars, the Moon and the asteroids as the most likely targets.