18 June 2020: Coming back down to earth will soon be an easier process for astronauts, thanks to new technologies for both measuring and preventing the sensorimotor disturbances that make them lose control over their limbs.
The project, a collaboration between the University of Canberra spin-out company Prism Neuro, and Australian companies elmTEK and SRCHealth, has received an International Space Investment Expand Capability (ISIEC) grant for $432,000 from the Australian Space Agency (ASA).
The grant will enable the project to be completed in 12 months, and then be deployed for use at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and European Space Agency (ESA).
University of Canberra Professor of Sports Medicine Dr Gordon Waddington says that when astronauts spend more than four weeks in space, the lack of external stimuli results in sensorimotor disturbances once they’re back on earth.
“The project addresses this NASA 2019 Human Exploration Research Opportunities priority, and ultimately aims to improve the performance and rehabilitation of astronauts who are involved with NASA and ESA flight missions,” he said.
“With NASA’s plans to return to the moon in 2024, this technology will reduce the risk of human-impaired control of spacecraft and associated systems following extended periods of weightlessness during spaceflight.”
As the Director of the University’s Research Institute for Sport and Exercise (UCRISE), Dr Waddington will build on his extensive research in the high-performance sports sector.
“We can use the tools developed in this research to assess the sensorimotor disturbances experienced by astronauts, and mitigate them with a wearable device,” he said.
Prism Neuro will collaborate with Adelaide-based elmTEK for the production of the testing system.
“The opportunity for Australia to contribute to NASA-led research is very exciting, particularly in the face of the unanswered questions relating to space medicine and the long-term effects of space environment exposure on humans,” said Ganen Ganeswaran, Managing Director at elmTEK.
“We will be working with UC and Prism Neuro to design and manufacture the sensorimotor assessment system through our purpose-built mission systems laboratory.”
The wearable mitigation device will take the form of a compression sock, with a textured surface; and Prism Neuro will work with SRC Health, a Melbourne-based compression garment company, to manufacture it in Australia.
Dr Waddington said that the project also has potential impact on earth – the same technologies can help people recovering from injuries and concussion and help to prevent falls in the elderly. Prism Neuro will develop products using these technologies for commercial supply in Australia.
“This project will fast track the development here in Australia of novel measurement tools and therapies that will support the assessment, treatment and enhancement of human sensorimotor abilities. This will improve our ability to optimise human performance and will apply across the spectrum, from the high-performance athlete to the elderly person at risk of falling,” he said.
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