A new Draper research on technology that could build a self-return system in space suits would produce a significant leap in the safety of astronauts during outdoor activities. The Draper investigators filed a patent for an automatic "take me home" function that would convert the space suits of most handicrafts into something that could lead to a safe haven in the event of an accident.
Once activated, either by the astronauts themselves, or by another crew member or even ground station personnel, the integrated spacecraft propellers would be guided autonomously to a designated safe place. It is designed around the challenges of navigating in outer space, where there is no GPS, and must take into account the conditions that can affect the ability to survive, including the level of remaining oxygen and the fuel available to the propellers.
Even if the system does not work I have to take over completely, can provide guidance to an astronaut inside using visual cues in a HUD that appears on the visor of the space suit. It can also provide "step-by-step" audio prompts, and even tactile comments to provide the appropriate instructions in case something happens during extravehicular activity (EVA) and there is a cause for deviation from the standard plan.
It's not just for space, however, this could also find application in fields that include emergency response and skydiving, says Draper. In addition, it could be combined with some of his other research on space suit technology, including boots and gloves that transmit sensor data to the internal user to make more sense.
Often, the current spacesuits are essentially obstacles for their users, but Draper and others are working on making them magnifying devices, rather than obstacles to be treated and solved. That will be very helpful if we ever want to colonize Mars, or even properly market the space closer to home.