Self-cleaning spacesuits could help astronauts survive on Mars

Carbon nanotube design stops dust damaging protective gear by repelling particles

Engineers have developed a self-cleaning spacesuit which uses carbon nanotube technology to rid itself of hyper-abrasive space dust. The sticky and sharp particles cause significant wear and tear on protective gear, as well as causing them to overheat.

Carbon nanotubes are already used to stop dust settling on solar panels and other sensors in space but they are brittle, flat and ill-suited for use in clothing. Scientists have now found a way to make the technology flexible and, with the help of a small magnetic field, created a fabric that can repel the dust.

Particles on other planets and our moon are sharper and more abrasive because of a missing, or thinner, atmosphere, which erodes and softens protruding edges here on Earth. It is also often electrically charged due to the unrelenting and unfiltered UV rays from space which experts say make the dust particles 'sticky'. Static electricity helps the dust cling to a spacesuit and then wears out the fabric - often in crevices and folds such as elbows and knees.

Kavya Manyapu, a flight crew operations and test engineer for Starliner Spacecraft at Boeing, has now found a way to magnetise flexible carbon nanotube fibres which make the fabric immune to the problematic dust particles. A magnetic field induces a process known as electrophoresis, which carries and moves charged particles away from an area to stop it building up in certain areas. 'The whole system is customisable and optimisable,' Dr Manyapu told New Scientist.

Boeing engineers created a fully functioning knee joint section to prove their concept was effective. The segment was fully pressurised, as it would be on future lunar and martian missions. It can even be modified to better suit the conditions and requirements of other planets or asteroids.

The full findings of the study was published in  the journal Acta Astronautica