COMEX supports ESA astronaut training
As ESA recently selected a new class of astronauts, we take the opportunity to present our activity as a service provider supporting ESA for a specific Astronaut Training activity. Since 2019, COMEX is working with ESA to implement underwater training and test activities in the Neutral Buoyancy Facility (NBF) at the European Astronaut Center (EAC) in Cologne (Germany).
ESA’s latest Astronaut recruitment campaign ended on November 23, 2022. Out of 22,523 applicants, ESA selected 17 new Astronaut Candidates to whom we send our sincere congratulations. Among those, two French Astronauts were selected, Sophie Adenot as a career astronaut and Arnaud Prost, a former COMEX project engineer and diver, as a reserve Astronaut. Starting next year, five career astronauts of this new ESA Astronaut Class will receive the ESA Basic Training organized at the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne, Germany. This is the first training phase for all Astronaut Candidates after their selection, introducing them to different fundamental knowledge and skills for spaceflight. The COMEX diving Team in Cologne will support ESA to implement the spacewalk skill training part of this Basic Training in the Neutral Buoyancy Facility (NBF) at EAC.
The Neutral Buoyancy Facility (NBF) at the European Astronaut Center
NBF with diving tank: 10m deep, 22m length and 17m width (credits: COMEX)
The NBF is a unique European Training Facility housing a 10m deep diving tank, training mock-ups, that represent parts of the International Space Station (ISS), and a Control Room from which Underwater Activities can be monitored and guided.
The contract concerning the NBF support between ESA and COMEX was first signed in spring 2019. Since then, COMEX has supported ESA for all NBF activities with a team of local safety divers supervised by our project Manager, Kathrin Nowak. Under the coordination of Hervé Stevenin, the ESA Astronaut Trainer for Extravehicular Activities (EVA), the Diving Team provides technical support and ensures the safety during the implementation of Underwater training and test activities.
EVA : The main Training Activities at NBF
The NBF core activity is the EVA Pre-Familiarization and Proficiency Training for ESA Astronauts for Extra-Vehicular Activities (EVA a.k.a. “spacewalks”). The European astronauts are trained by ESA on the rules of engagement of EVAs, through underwater simulations of typical ISS spacewalk tasks performed inside the NBF in neutral buoyancy simulating weightlessness.
These activities prepare them for training in spacesuits at NASA in Houston. ESA’s newly recruited career Astronauts will go through the NBF EVA Pre-familiarization Training as part of their Basic Training starting in April 2023. This Training will be provided by the ESA Trainer Hervé Stevenin, who received several NASA EVA Trainings in Houston himself.
Herve Stevenin in EVA Training by NASA at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) in Houston (Credits: NASA/ESA)
To prepare the Astronaut Candidates for their first EVA training sessions underwater, they will have to go through several training sessions to prepare them to dive in the unique NBF EVA configuration. As ESA has not developed a European space suit, astronauts in the NBF train in a custom-made gear allowing them to speak with the Astronaut Trainer in the Control Room (via a communication line and a Full Face Mask) and to carry and operate the NASA EVA standard Tools with EVA gloves like they will later do it during their EVA suited runs at NASA.
After several breaks in the NBF ctivities due to refurbishment activities in the last couple of years the NBF diving Team is now busy in preparing the upcoming Basic Training in 2023. This includes the testing of all relevant training hardware and equipment, implementing proficiency training of the team, performing rescue drills and completing the rehearsal of all diving training lessons the Astronauts will receive.
NBF Divers (crédits : B. Schulze)
Kathrin NOWAK, our project manager in charge of diving operations
Kathrin is a COMEX project manager in Cologne, Germany. She has been working in the Neutral Buoyancy Facility (NBF) for over 12 years. After gaining experience as a freelance diver she joined the safety diver team of the European Astronaut Center in 2009. In 2010 she supported the Basic Training of the ESA Astronaut Class 2009 in the NBF and several following Astronaut Training and ESA test. campaigns. Since 2018 she works for COMEX and manages the diving team supporting ESA in the preparation and implementation of all diving operations in the NBF.
Beyond this project, Comex has also been a partner of ESA and CNES for many years on various topics for the space sector. Our team works, among other things, on R&D projects such as the VCARE device, or projects around future space habitats and life support system such as air/water filtration equipment in space. These projects, carried out at the Marseille site, are based on COMEX infrastructures, unique in Europe, providing for example the possibility of simulating lunar surface operations under vacuum.