The space suit of the future goes through 3D scanning and printing



NASA is looking for the best alternatives for manufacturing and customizing astronaut clothing at an affordable cost. 3D technology seems to be the best option to respond to your concerns

The Spacesuit Digital Thread is NASA's next space project. This proposal seeks to investigate the feasibility of manufacturing cost-effective, high-performance exploration spacesuits "tailor-made" for Mars and using Digital Thread (DT), which integrates digital analytical components for manufacturing in the development of the final spacesuit. The vision is a "digital human scan to digital design/analysis to robotic manufacturing."


© Bonnie Dunbar /



This approach would address several problems facing deep space travel, in particular:


1) the ability to rapidly design and manufacture extravehicular activities (EVA) spacesuits that best match the anthropometric characteristics of each crew member (male and female) in any gravitational environment

2) the need to build digital twins that are continually modified based on lessons learned and design optimization

3) the ability for the deep space crew to fabricate or repair some EVA suit components on-site based on digital files

4) the ability to digitally embed the EVA suit into the entire Mars mission architecture and concept of operations, including resupply, on-site repair and fabrication, and on-site reuse of materials.


Planned Mars architectures for surface-dwelling humans in 2030 envision almost daily spacewalks in EVA suits. EVA suits are anthropometrically considered "spacecraft" that must protect the crew from the extreme environments of space while providing the mobility necessary to perform scientific and engineering exploration effectively outside the habitat or of the spaceship. Soft cloth "custom" suits were made for all early space flight crews (Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Skylab) prior to the Space Shuttle Program. Apollo-era crew members have reported being very pleased with their custom suits, including those from the last mission, Apollo 17. To support the Space Shuttle Program, a plug and play "modular" suit, the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU), was designed. Initial inventory included 5 Hard Upper Torso (HUT) chest sizes, 1 helmet size, adjustable arm and leg lengths but only two diameters, two boot sizes with adjustable inserts, and custom gloves. A total of 18 suits were built to support almost 200 astronauts. For a variety of reasons, not all selected and trained astronauts could fit or function in the suit, with many crew members suffering shoulder injuries, pressure points, fingernail loss, and nearly 50% loss of effective strength. due to the pressure resistance of the suit. It seems justified to go back to custom EVA suits.


But how to do this quickly and profitably? Is it possible to use current scanning technologies, human factors studies, physiological data, additive manufacturing, robotics, and modern digital design and analysis tools? The main objective of this feasibility project is to answer those questions by determining how the "Digital Thread" manufacturing process, which is being implemented in other non-human manufacturing spheres, can be used to develop a digital manufacturing flow that will provide any size . or fit crew (or future tourist) with an optimized EVA spacesuit. The study will identify all the key components of a spacesuit and current manufacturing technologies; assign them to DT components; identify technology gaps; compare technologies and capabilities required in industry, academia, and government; and develop a conceptual DT model for future spacesuit development and operational support. The digital thread could also include components to model suits in any given planetary environment and to model logistical requirements (supplies and consumables). Examples of digital technologies/components to be evaluated include 3D additive manufacturing, IR/photogrammetric scanning of the human body, digital twins, computer-aided design, model-based engineering, human factors/kinematic models, and robotic/automated 3D garment manufacturing.


Author: Bonnie Dunbar







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