Imagine the frightening scenario—dramatised in movies like Gravity and 2001—where an astronaut gets sick or disoriented during a spacewalk.
Confused, and on the cusp of losing consciousness, she struggles to operate the suit’s jetpack.
Unable to get her bearings, and without a tether to keep her secured to the space station, she drifts farther and farther away until all hope is lost.
Now instead of that scenario, imagine the struggling astronaut presses an emergency button which automatically takes her back to the International Space Station or another space-based habitat.
Such a system is currently under development at Draper Labs, and it could soon become a standard feature on spacesuits.
To develop this “take me home” technology, Draper’s engineers had to design a system capable of pinpointing an astronaut’s location relative to the return point, and compute an optimal return trajectory taking time, oxygen consumption, safety, and clearance considerations into account.