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MARES design team praises SolidWorks capabilities

06 October 2010

Though physically very fit, astronauts grow weak after prolonged missions in zero gravity. To help combat muscle atrophy, a Spanish company using SolidWorks software has developed a sophisticated system to test their strength in space.

The Muscle Atrophy Research and Exercise System MARES) was developed by NTE-Sener for the European Space Agency, and consists of an adjustable chair with a system of pads that tests a dozen muscle groups for weakness and exercise benefits. It was launched last April aboard the NASA Discovery Space Shuttle and will soon be installed in the European Columbus Module of the International Space Station.

NTE-Sener mechanical engineer Albert Catalan said SolidWorks helped him and other members of the team create concepts quickly and review them in vivid 3D detail with NASA. The design requirements were rigorous. MARES needs to restrain the astronaut, limit motion to the tested muscles, ensure user safety, deliver power-assisted resistance, and handle any astronaut between the fifth and 95th height percentiles. The system also needs to be modular so astronauts can assemble, disassemble, stow, and operate it.

A proper fit in the space shuttle was assured through seamless data exchange with SolidWorks users at NASA, and the software’s simulation tools helped reduce risk of failure and injury by analysing the effect of real-world physical forces on the MARES system.

According to Manuel Canchado Morales, head of NTE-Sener’s mechanical engineering department, said the system could eventually be used back on earth to refine care for victims of paralysis, trauma, or prolonged immobilisation.


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