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"Spacetex" project takes functional textiles into outer space

14.04.2014 - (idw) Hohenstein Institute

On 28 May 2014, the German ESA astronaut Dr. Alexander Gerst
will take off from the cosmodrome in Baikonur/Kazakhstan, bound for the International
Space Station (ISS). During the six-month "Blue Dot" mission, Dr. Gerst will be
responsible for almost 40 different experiments including the "Spacetex" project, the
first clothing physiology experiments to be carried out in a weightless environment. It is
hoped that the Spacetex project will shed new light on the interaction between body,
clothing and climate. Experiments in zero gravity help with the development of innovative textiles for
extreme conditions on Earth
The "Spacetex" project and its aims
The "Spacetex" research partners from the Hohenstein Institute (Bönnigheim -
Germany), Schoeller Textil AG (Sevelen Switzerland), Charité (Berlin Germany)
und DLR (Bonn/Bremen Germany) are expecting unique results from the joint
undertaking. It is hoped that the tests deliver essential information for developing new
textile products for use in extreme climatic and physiological conditions on Earth.
Equally as important, the data obtained should help optimise astronauts' clothing for
future space voyages and long-term missions such as the approximately three-year
voyage to Mars that is planned for 2030.

The challenges of zero gravity
Project leader Dr. Jan Beringer of the Hohenstein Institute sees great potential for
improving the comfort and other performance features of garments in space: "Among
other things, the lack of gravity affects the way body heat and sweat are transported
through clothing that is worn next to the skin. To ensure that the body's cooling
mechanism is still properly maintained, textiles have to be specially adapted for use
in space. Industrial researcher Dr. Beringer, who is listed as the projects Principal
Investigator (PI), believes performance-based textile functions will be key in future
developments. These include, for example, antimicrobial textile finishes to minimise the
odour formation that occurs as sweat is broken down by bacteria.

Wearing tests by astronaut Dr. Alexander Gerst
At the end of February, Dr. Jan Beringer and Prof. Dr. Hanns-Christian Gunga of the
Center of Space Medicine at the Charité in Berlin, who is also Principal Investigator (PI)
in the project, attended Dr. Alexander Gerst's training for the project at the European
Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne. In preparation for his duties while in orbit, Dr.Gerst performed four intensive treadmill workouts on four separate days during his preflight
training. During two of the training sessions, he wore functional underwear made
of special polyester. Dr. Gerst wore a conventional cotton set of underwear, consisting
of a T-shirt and shorts, for the remaining two sessions. Using a questionnaire, the 37-
year-old from Künzelsau assessed how well body heat and sweat were wicked away
from his body by the clothing systems. Dr. Alexander Gerst will also give his subjective
impressions immediately after the training sessions in space; this will provide the first
important comparative data for the "Spacetex" project.

Space-proven for extreme situations on Earth
It is expected that the data from the Dr. Gerst experiments will aid in Prof. Dr. Hanns-
Christian Gungas reserach. For years, Gunga has been studying the effects that
weightlessness in space, or in extreme climatic conditions on Earth, has on the human
body. "In zero gravity, the breakdown of muscle and bone tissue begins very quickly.
To counteract that degeneration, working on special training equipment is extremely
important for astronauts. During that process, the body gives off heat just as it does
on Earth, and tries to cool itself down by releasing and evaporating sweat. However,
due to the lack of gravity and therefore of a flow of heat (convection), neither the body
heat nor the sweat are transported away onto clothing or into the environment as they
are on Earth." Instead, the heat envelops the body almost like an aura. Especially if
clothing is loose-fitting, sweat remains stubbornly on the skin. This means the cooling
effect on the body is lost and the training imparts greater physiological strain than it
does on Earth, even for very fit astronauts.
In addition to their potential use in space, space-proven textiles are also of great
interest when developing textiles for extreme conditions here on Earth. For Hans-
Jürgen Hübner, Schoeller Textil AG, this is an important reason why the textile
manufacturer is involved in this industry-funded research project: "We will feed the
findings from the "Spacetex" project into our product development and optimisation
work. Future astronauts will benefit from this work. Well also make sure that people
here on Earth who push the limits of their physical endurance or have to deliver peak
performance in extreme conditions benefit as well. That includes, of course, athletes
of all kinds but also firefighters, catastrophe relief workers and members of the armed
forces."

Experiments using the Hohenstein skin model
Alongside the subjective wear tests, objective evaluations of moisture and heat
management are another vital data source for PI Dr. Beringer. The functional and
cotton textiles were subjected to an extensive series of tests on the Hohenstein skin
model that simulates the thermoregulatory system of human skin. Various clothing
physiology parameters such as water vapour resistance, which indicates breathability,
and thermal insulation were measured in standardised climatic conditions and normal
gravity. Because of the great weight of the measuring equipment, it is impossible to
bring it on board the ISS.
In order to be able to take comparative measurements in micro-gravity, the Hohenstein
Institute is developing a special version of the Hohenstein skin model that could
possibly be expected to be used in 2016 on board an Airbus A300 during the parabolic
flights. During these flights, the aircraft climbs steeply out of horizontal flight, reduces
the thrust of the turbines and flies a parabola (ellipse) during which weightlessness is
experienced for about 22 seconds. Altogether, such a flight offers about 35 minutes of
weightlessness - alternating with normal and twice the normal gravitational force - for
researchers to use during experiments.

Odour analysis and microbiological tests
After the astronaut testing in Cologne, the test textiles were packed in airtight
containers and later tested at the Hohenstein Institute for odour formation and number
of residual bacteria. So that similar tests can be carried out on the textiles after the
training sessions in space, Dr. Alexander Gerst will return with them, again in air-tight
packaging, in November 2014.

Little Tenax tubes will serve as the "odour trap". Special polymers will absorb and

preserve the odour molecules so that they can be counted after the mission using
the GC/MS (gas chromatography mass spectrometer). In microbiological tests, the
Hohenstein scientists will again count the number of bacteria adhering to the textile and
compare the figures. As with the wearing comfort tests, the findings for functional and
cotton textiles in normal and micro-gravity will be compared.

Always up-to-date
The project partners provide regular updates on various milestones during the
"Spacetex" project. As of 1 April 2014 interim results and more information are
provided on
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