NASA Funds Final Frontier Design for Low-Cost Personal Life Support System

Spacewalker Kate Rubins works outside the International Space Station with the SpaceX Dragon space freighter just below her. (Credit: NASA TV)

Final Frontier Design (FFD) has been selected for NASA funding to develop a low-cost personal life support system for spacesuits that would use commercial off-the-shelf components and be discarded after use.

The space agency selected the Brooklyn-based company’s proposal for funding under its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase 1 program. The contract is worth up to $125,000 for as long as 13 months.

“The Low Cost PLSS is broken into three major systems as described above: the Ventilation System, the Thermal Control System, and the Electronics and Controls System,” the proposal summary states. “FFD has identified multiple COTS, ISO certified suppliers for most components required for the system; the components have been chosen for prior space applications or space-like environment use.

“The Low Cost PLSS can greatly reduce unit price for the PLSS, with parts alone costing less than $120,000, likely an order of magnitude less expensive than the current next generation PLSS system,” tje document added.

“The Low Cost PLSS can be designed for ‘minimal use’, such that it is utilized in space and discarded on re-entry, rather than returned for maintenance and servicing, which represents a major design and operational cost barrier for current systems.  The Low Cost PLSS is designed and intended to be able to be used with current space suit enclosure systems,” the company said.

The proposal summary follows.

Proposal Title:
Low Cost Personal Life Support System

Subtopic Title:
Mass Produced, Minimal Capability, Disposable EVA Life Support System

Small Business Concern
Final Frontier Design
Brooklyn, NY

Principal Investigator
Theodore Southern

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) :
Begin: 3
End: 4

Technical Abstract

Final Frontier Design (FFD) proposes a Low Cost Personal Life Support System (PLSS) for a space suit, utilizing commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) items wherever possible. The closed loop, Low Cost PLSS system proposed includes all the required systems for a generic EVA setup, and can be packaged effectively for outer space based applications.  The use of COTS items with a minimum amount of original parts greatly reduces unit and development costs while maintaining a safe and effective means of life support.

The Low Cost PLSS can be designed for “minimal use”, such that it is utilized in space and discarded on re-entry, rather than returned for maintenance and servicing, which represents a major design and operational cost barrier for current systems.  The Low Cost PLSS is designed and intended to be able to be used with current space suit enclosure systems.

The Low Cost PLSS is broken into three major systems as described above: the Ventilation System, the Thermal Control System, and the Electronics and Controls System.  FFD has identified multiple COTS, ISO certified suppliers for most components required for the system; the components have been chosen for prior space applications or space-like environment use. The Low Cost PLSS can greatly reduce unit price for the PLSS, with parts alone costing less than $120,000, likely an order of magnitude less expensive than the current next generation PLSS system.

Potential NASA Applications

NASA’s future exploration missions can benefit from an economic solution to the PLSS that is focused on single use capabilities appropriate for individual missions. A Low Cost PLSS could reduce mission costs while increasing units of replaceable backpacks for the space suit enclosure. “Low-cost customization” is, as mentioned in the SBIR calls, “is vital to NASA’s future exploration capabilities in many ways.” An interchangeable PLSS system can potentially adapt to new technologies.

Potential Non-NASA Applications

There are now more than a handful of commercial space companies with billions of dollars dedicated to human spaceflight, both to orbital, microgravity destinations, as well as to planetary surface operations.  At least 8 American companies intend to send humans to operate in the space environment. Each of these companies will require EVA operations to maintain, upgrade, and save their space based assets. However, there currently does not exist a commercial, cost-driven EVA system solution.

  • windbourne

    I like it being low cost, but why disposable at $100,000+?

  • Randy Carson

    Why do you think. The bogus cost estimate is just an excuse to make more disposable hardware because disposable is always more profitable.

  • Michael Halpern

    likely the valves used and the scrubber system, dont need to design it to be refillable or fit the components that enable it to to refilled into a capsule and many of those components are likely very low production, also could have to do with the propulsion system, I would prefer a design that used modernized production techniques, and possibly could be refurbed on orbit.

  • Chip Snyder

    Agree. This seems odd and stood out at first pass. Refurbishment must be ridiculous expensive under current systems?