Several technologies used to design the space suits protecting astronauts are now being adapted to protect workers facing extremely hot and dangerous conditions. According to the European Space Agency (ESA), these 'space-cooled' jackets are using three different technologies: special 3D-textile structure, cooling apparatus derived from astronauts' suits, and a special water-binding polymer acting as a coating. Even if these protective clothes are primarily intended for firefighters or steel workers, several applications are possible, such as in sportswear or in cars as parts of air conditioning systems.
Here are the goals of this project, explained by Stefano Carosio from the Italian company D'Appolonia.
"Through this project, named Safe&Cool, we are developing a special protective material with a built-in cooling system based on the technology developed for the space suits used by astronauts on the International Space Station to prevent them from overheating when exposed to direct sunlight during space walks."
And for this project, the members of the consortium used several technologies.
Firstly a special 3D-textile structure is used in the thermal and moisture management layer to replace the interliner and moisture barrier of classical three-layered protective clothing.
The second technology is the cooling apparatus derived from astronauts' suits. This enables liquid to be circulated through tubing inserted in cavities in the 3D-textile structure, creating 'blood vessels' for heat removal. A water-binding polymer is the third technology and this will be added either as a coating or in the form of a powder dispersed inside the fabrics.
Below is a picture showing the three technologies described above (Credit: Safe&Cool Project Consortium).
And the picture below shows a detail of the cooling apparatus derived from astronauts' suits: the cooling tubes are weaved into the improved textiles developed by the Safe&Cool project (Credit: Safe&Cool Project Consortium).
But what will be the usage of such suits?
Although the immediate application for the Safe&Cool innovative thermal management system is to create clothing to protect those working in harsh environments, such as firefighters and steel workers, several other promising applications have been identified by the consortium, including use in sportswear and transportation. The Polish company TAPS, which is part of the consortium, is already testing the industrial viability of inserting the system as heating or conditioning elements inside passenger seats in cars and public transport.
For other illustrations about this technology, you might want to check this page on the ESA Portal, from which the two images above have been picked. You also can look at a previous story featuring a cooling jacket for astronauts using the technology described above.
Sources: European Space Agency news release, via EurekAlert!, March 3, 2006; and various web sites
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