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New kind of space suit being tested in Ottawa

Research hopes to test previously untested piece of sky.

Shawna Pandya, a citizen-scientist astronaut with Project Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere (PoSSUM), goes over some pre-flight prep with Derek Gowanlock on-board a Falcon 20 aircraft at the Ottawa MacDonald-Cartier International Airport before testing an experimental high-altitude spacesuit

Jesse Cnockaert / For Metro

Shawna Pandya, a citizen-scientist astronaut with Project Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere (PoSSUM), goes over some pre-flight prep with Derek Gowanlock on-board a Falcon 20 aircraft at the Ottawa MacDonald-Cartier International Airport before testing an experimental high-altitude spacesuit

The next step in testing for a new type of spacesuit is in Ottawa this week, which could lead to manned missions to a previously inaccessible part of the sky.

The Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere (PoSSUM) project is a suborbital research and education program.

PoSSUM graduates and applicants were at a National Research Council of Canada facility at the Ottawa Airport Monday and for the rest of this week, conducting the first ‘visor-down’ test of their commercial spacesuit design.

The goal is to create a suit which will allow for a person to pilot a mission into the upper Mesosphere, a part of the atmosphere too high for planes and too low for clouds. The area has not been studied a lot before, because the technology to do so simply didn’t exist.

"We want to actually fly very specific camera systems up through a noctilucent cloud. These are clouds ten times higher than the clouds you see. They're space clouds, but they are very sensitive indicators of global climate change. We want to learn a lot more," explained Dr. Jason Reimuller, executive director of Project PoSSUM. "This is an area we know so little about. It's an area too high to get to by aircraft or balloon, but too low to get to by satellite."

Keeping a pilot safe at that altitude for an extended period of time would need to address issues such as ventilation, and how they would handle gravitational forces and microgravity. Previous suit tests from the last two years have all been with the suit’s visor up.

"We know so little about (the upper Mesosphere), but it can tell us so much. It's probably the most sensitive part of our planet; it's where the sun interacts with the earth's environment and the dynamics there are incredibly complex," said Reimuller.

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