COMEX and the European Space Agency (ESA) have signed a contract on astronaut underwater training at the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne.
On May 18th, 2019, the Marseille-based enterprise COMEX (Compagnie Maritime d’Expertises) and the European Space Agency (ESA) have signed a contract on supporting the underwater training of astronauts and operations of ESA’s Neutral Buoyancy Facility (NBF) at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne. The NBF is a unique training and testing facility housing a 10 m deep water tank, in which full scale mock-ups of International Space Station (ISS) modules are immerged. This is the only place in Europe, where astronauts receive training for Extra-Vehicular Activities (EVA) also known as spacewalks. ESA has developed and implemented in the NBF a world-wide unique EVA Prefamiliarisation Training Programme to train the European astronauts on the rules of engagement for spacewalks on the International Space Station (ISS). This programme has proven its efficiency with the multiple spacewalk assignments of ESA astronauts in the past 10 years and is also used as EVA proficiency training in Europe. “This innovative ESA training has been in place for already 15 years and is regularly enhanced through a very fruitful cooperation with NASA. Its objective is to boost ESA astronaut initial EVA capabilities in safely and efficiently performing EVA tasks, before they get exposed to the spacesuit constraints through their further EVA skill training by NASA in Houston. Having now COMEX on board is an additional and appreciated asset for the diving activities in the NBF” says Hervé Stevenin, ESA Head of the EVA training at EAC.
The NBF also offers the capability to simulate the Moon gravity through immersions in slightly negative buoyancy. ESA has already prototyped Lunar EVA equipment & tools, which have been tested in simulated lunar gravity inside the NBF tank for the preparation of the ESA upcoming contribution to the return of humans to the Moon surface.
The present contract also includes the continuation of these activities to test European lunar surface operations and hardware to prepare the return of astronauts on the Moon. “Within this contract we will provide ESA with a team of divers to support the training of astronauts underwater for missions to the International Space Station (ISS). But the project goes beyond ISS and will also serve to support ESA contribution to future human lunar exploration missions” says Alexandre Oskian, Director at COMEX. The company is working for ESA on several projects related to the future Moon exploration and is actively investigating spin-off technologies and synergies between the maritime and space sectors.
Kathrin Nowak, NBF Diver and COMEX Team Lead at the European Astronaut Centre says: “Most of the divers working for COMEX in Cologne have a long experience of supporting astronaut training and tests at the Neutral Buoyancy Facility. We are happy that we can combine the expertise of COMEX and the proficiency of the diving team to support ESA in NBF activities”.
The Compagnie Maritime d’Expertises (COMEX) was founded in 1961 by Henri Germain Delauze (1929-2012). It is a worldwide pioneer in offshore diving and technologies for human interventions in extreme environments. The Compagnie is involved in several projects for the European Space Agency on the development of technologies to return humans to the Moon such as the development of materials of future space suits (Project PEXTEX) or the design of the Science Airlock for the future space station GATEWAY (Project ESPRIT under a contract with AIRBUS).