Researchers from a company called Draper have created a way for astronauts to avoid being lost in space no matter how disoriented they become. The researchers have created a “fool-proof way to return to the spacecraft” according to Kevin Duda, a space systems engineer at the company. Duda and his team have studied astronauts on the ISS and filed for a patent for a system that ensures self-return too the spacecraft even when no one is available to rescue them.
The team working in the new system says that it an advance that is long overdue. Current spacesuits used on the ISS have no method of returning to the spacecraft in an emergency. The system the team designed is able to determine its precise location in space where GPS isn’t available.
The system can then compute an optimal return path trajectory that considers time, oxygen consumption, safety, and clearance requirements. The system is able to operate the jetpack on the space suit potentially guiding an injured or unconscious astronaut to safety.
If the astronaut is able to function, the suit can give them contextual cues via sensors in the helmet to guide them. The self-return system could be actuated by the astronaut, space station, or mission control. The patent shows that the system can also monitor movement, acceleration, and relative position of the crewmember relative to a fixed object like an orbiting spacecraft.
There are also various configurations that can be setup such as GPS, vision-aided nav, or a star-tracker system. Draper has a system with software using data from vision-based systems and inertial navigation systems. This research was funded by NASA. The system also has potential to be used by firefighters, scuba divers, and skydivers.