A serious issue with human space exploration is the inevitable decay of muscle tissue and bone density due to the lack of gravity. Even though astronauts spend hours each day training with specialized sports devices, they need to undergo months-long rehabilitation programs once back on Earth. This will become even more problematic for upcoming long-term journeys to Mars and beyond, as well as long-term settlements in low gravity environments like the Moon.
We propose the design and testing of a prototype zero-gravity undersuit that mimics Earth’s gravitational pull on the whole body, driven by magnetic fields. A magnetic ‘runway’ will be fixed on the floor area, which could be integrated in the floor of future starships and habitats. The test person will be equipped with clothing that has a magnetic/magnetizable component woven into it. An ideal component could be ferrofluid distributed evenly in pouches over the entire undersuit; the best configuration will be determined during the development and prototyping phase.
Why use ferrofluids? Ferrofluids are liquids which get strongly magnetized in the presence of a magnetic field, and are non-magnetic otherwise (Papell 1963). They are often classified as super-paramagnetic, as they have a much larger magnetic susceptibility than typical paramagnets, making them the ideal component for the proposed space suits. Using ferrofluids instead of ferro- and paramagnets has numerous advantages: astronauts would constantly repel one another if their suits were ferromagnetic, while paramagnetic suits usually cannot deliver a high enough force to mimic Earth’s gravity. Thus we prefer a ferrofluid, which reacts strongly to magnets in the floor plate but is not magnetised on its own. Moreover, a liquid will allow a perfect range of motion and equal distribution around the body.
Why not use magnetic boots? Many mechanisms were tested by NASA to enable humans to pertain a sense of direction and mimic gravity in space. Previous concepts and testing included magnetic boots (e.g. Rosener & Hanger 1970). The problem with boots is that the “weight feeling” is distributed very unevenly, and thus they neither enable natural movement nor an exercise of the whole body’s muscular system. Further, bipedal locomotion would require switching the magnets alternatingly on and off, posing additional challenges. Consequently, these programs were terminated.
We aim to overcome the shortcomings identified in previous studies by altering the principles and components with our novel approach. Magnetic fields in combination with ferrofluid undersuits can be the most natural mimicance of Earth’s gravity on space flights and long-term low-gravity habitats.
References and links:
Papell 1963: https://patents.google.com/patent/US3215572
Rosener & Hanger 1970: https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/1066852