ESA

Measuring astronauts' muscle activity

Ohmatex has been awarded a 350,000 euro contract to develop muscle monitoring exercise suits for astronauts on the International Space Station ISS. For the second time, ESA has recognized Ohmatex’s expertise in integrating sensing technology into textiles and in our ability to work collaboratively with experts in sports physiology and biomedical research to produce meaningful measurements of muscle activity.

In 2009, the European Space Agency (ESA) signed a contract with Ohmatex for the development of a smart sock system that measures astronauts muscular activity during longer durations in space. Following the success of this contract, ESA has now engaged in Ohmatex in further work to advance the ways in which muscle activity can be measured.

In near-zero gravity conditions, muscles deteriorate quickly unless they are exercised intensively. This is a serious issue for astronauts who spend at least 2 hours working out every day whilst in space. In order to optimize the astronaut’s exercise programme, and ultimately reduce muscle degeneration, ESA is engaging Ohmatex to further develop a technology which measures the effect of the astronauts’ training exercises in space, and monitors the impact of weightlessness on the body.

To achieve this Ohmatex will be working closely with Marco Cardinale, Head of Research for Team GB in the 2012 Olympics, drawing on his extensive experience measuring muscle activation patterns in elite athletes, and with researchers and doctors at the department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Copenhagen. During the two year contract wearable monitoring technology will be developed and integrated into an exercise suit to be worn by astronauts during training. Following successful implementation the aim is that the garment will be used on the International Space Station (ISS) during exercise programmes.

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To gain a deeper insight into muscular activity 3 garment integrated sensor technologies will be combined: EMG sensors will detect muscle activation; NIRS sensors will detect changes in oxygen content in selected muscle groups and Plethysmography sensors will measure limb circumference as an indication of changes in muscle volume. The combined data will then be used to analyse muscle activity and optimise training.

The study will also generate new knowledge about fluid shifts in the legs, making the technology of interest in cases of heart and kidney failure and preeclampsia.

Not only is there exciting development work ahead for Ohmatex, but it also opens up commercial spin-off opportunities in telemedicine and health monitoring, where smart textiles are gaining ground by leaps and bounds.