Spacesuits cleared by NASA following EMU incident

by Chris Bergin

The temporary ban on spacewalks has been lifted, following an International Space Station Mission Management Team (IMMT) meeting, which give final approval to conduct EVA-11 on schedule.

An investigation into the incident last Friday – which was halted when a crewmember reported a smell of smoke inside his EMU (Extravehicular Mobility Unit) – has now been concluded, with no issues found with the suit.

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The incident occurred inside Building 7’s Space Station Airlock Test Article (SSATA) facility at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, with the crewmember conducting a suited dry run inside the chamber.

At the time of the test, the chamber was at atmospheric pressure, allowing the crewmember to be removed from the suit without the need for an emergency repress of the facility. 

An investigation was immediately set up, with the suit taken away for testing, while NASA imposed a ban to all spacewalks for the interim period.

‘An investigation was initiated and the flight control team was directed to suspend any operations with the on-orbit EMUs until it could be determined that a generic suit problem did not exist,’ noted information acquired by L2.

As early as the start of this week, tests showed that the EMU was working within normal operations during the dry run.

‘A review of the performance data of the EMU systems prior to, and during the event was completed. All data indicated nominal operations of all EMU systems,’ added the information. ‘A review of all of the EMU softgoods and associated paper has been completed and there is no indication of an off gassing issue as the cause of the odor.

‘One EVA has finished the N2 testing well ahead of schedule. All of the results from the N2 test program have been converted due to the use of N2 vs. O2, and reviewed by the team. All data indicates that all EMU systems are functioning properly.’

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Further testing was conducted via test stand runs and analyses on gas, water and swab samples, all pointing towards the incident not being a combustion event.

‘The gas sample analyses and the gas filter analyses have been completed with no indication of the presence of combustion products. This is not conclusive, but it is yet another indication that there was likely not a combustion event.’

As to what caused the smell of smoke is at present unknown, though engineers are looking ‘up stream’ of the test, such as the supply lines, although this is a secondary objective of testing. The priority was to clear the EMUs for use on orbit ahead of EVA-11 next week – vital to the completion of stage work ahead of the launch of STS-122 next month.

‘The facility portion of the investigation is also being addressed, to determine if a combustion event upstream of the EMU could have been the source of the odor. Gas and particulate sampling of the facility supply lines has been completed,’ added the information.

‘So far the team had been focusing on system testing and sample analysis to determine the presence of combustion products in order to indicate or rule out the incident being the result of a combustion event.

‘That will form the basis of the rationale to resume EMU O2 operations on-orbit or in the ground labs. Locating the source of the odor is a secondary objective behind resumption of operations. A test plan is being developed to evaluate the condition of the METOX (metal oxide canisters) can to see if it was the possible source of the odor.’

With the testing showing the source of the smoke smell was not a result of a malfunctioning EMU, NASA will give final clearance to remove the ban on spacewalks, thus allowing EVA-11 to proceed as planned.

‘Assuming no setbacks during the O2 testing, (we are) is still on track to provide MOD (Mission Operations Directorate) with a GO for EMU Water recharge, and is also on track to present rationale for GO for all EMU operations at the IMMT on Thursday morning in preparation for EVA 11.’

UPDATE: The IMMT has now cleared the EMUs for operation on orbit.

‘The MIB (Mishap Investigation Board) that evaluated the results from the chamber EMU inspection..and has cleared the on-orbit suits for the normal EMU water recharge (the original Flight Rule limit of 48 hrs for post-EVA recharge was extended to 7 days). The EMUs have the Go for spacewalk use,’ noted Thursday’s On Orbit Status report.

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