Astronauts and bedridden patients have much in common
A trip to space has about the same effect on the body as a prolonged stay in bed. Muscles, bones and circulation, are weakened. Therefore, Danish Aerospace Company A/S collaborates with robot scientist from the University of Southern Denmark, who develops training equipment for rehabilitation.
In 2015, Andreas Mogensen became the first Dane in space. Now there is another opportunity for a Danish astronaut. The European Space Agency (ESA) is looking for four new astronauts. At least one thing is certain. Onboard, the new astronauts should prepare themselves for training using training equipment supplied by Danish Aerospace Company A/S in Odense.
– You usually compare going into space with staying in bed for half a year. If you lie in bed for half a year, then you will not be able to stand on your feet. Nor can astronauts if they do not train whilst they are in space, points out director Thomas A. E. Andersen from the Danish Aerospace Company, which is the world leader in training equipment for astronauts:
– Astronauts typically experience a 10-20 per cent reduction in bone mass in space. Therefore, astronauts must return to Earth within 14 days if the exercise equipment breaks down.
You usually compare going into space with staying in bed for half a year.
ESA has also previously conducted experiments with bedridden healthy people to measure how it affects muscles, bones and circulation.
– Danish Aerospace Company's expertise is to create strain where there is no strain. But when we train very sick patients with almost no muscle strength, it is important to remove strain, says researcher Anders Stengaard Sørensen from the Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller Institute.
For 10 years, Anders Stengaard Sørensen has worked with integrating robot technology with rehabilitation equipment for the frail elderly, where robot technology actively helps patients and complements the work of physiotherapists.
– Rehabilitation depends on a lot of repetitions of different exercises. It is the right job for a robot, says Anders Stengaard Sørensen.
Playing with gravity
He invented RoboTrainer; a rehabilitation robot in which a cord drive is connected to a computer, which automatically adjusts itself to help patients that have very little muscle power. For example, the robot helps to lift the patient's arm when the patient does not have the muscle strength to do so. In this way, patients gradually regain the feeling and strength in the body.
– In space, the astronauts need strain where there is no strain. Patients in a rehabilitation course need require the opposite. When we train people who are ill, there is too much gravity, so we have to come up with algorithms and adapt the patient's experience of gravity, Anders Stengaard Sørensen explains:
– With the RoboTrainer, we alter people’s perception of gravity. One can say that we create a form of virtual reality for the body.
With the RoboTrainer, we alter people’s perception of gravity. We create a form of virtual reality for the body.
Danish Aerospace Company discovered Anders Stengaard's work to incorporate robotic equipment and new technology for rehabilitation. The company can see the advantage of the intelligent cord drive because it does not take up much space and it will complement an exercise bike so that astronauts get the opportunity for the precise training of individual muscle groups.
– We have followed Anders' work that integrates new technology in training equipment. We absorb all the inspiration that we possibly can so that we can secure our position as a market leader. The core of our product is an exercise bike, which we have complemented, like RoboTrainer, with the use of an engine and electronic regulation, says Thomas A. E. Andersen from Danish Aerospace Company A/S:
Inspiring new knowledge
– We are also incredibly happy for the students from SDU who come to do an internship with us. Using them, we get the opportunity to pursue ideas that we otherwise would not have the resources for, and they inspire us with the latest knowledge and technology for the company. It provides an academic insight where critical questions can make us do things more smartly.
When ESA sends the next astronaut up, the name Danish Aerospace Company will certainly be written on the exercise equipment that he or she will need to exercise. The Danish Aerospace Company currently has a contract with both ESA and NASA for the supply of space bikes and health monitoring equipment, but the market is growing.
More and more space missions
– If you had asked me 10 years ago, then ESA and NASA were the only potential customers, but now we are experiencing a growing market, also within the private space industry. There are more and more space missions involving astronauts.
ESA seeks new astronauts
- For the first time in 11 years, European Space Agency, ESA is looking for new astronauts.
- The starting point for this is 31 March 2021, when the vacancies for new astronauts open. To expand gender diversity ESA is strongly encouraging women to apply.
- The vacancy runs from 31 March to 28 May 2021 and ESA will only consider applications submitted to the ESA Career website within those eight weeks.
- After that, the six-stage selection process will start, which is expected to be completed in October 2022
Learn more at ESA's homepage
- There are more and more space missions involving astronauts. India is planning the country's first spaceflight, with astronauts, in 2022, while China is aiming for a lunar flight with astronauts in the year 2024, says Thomas A. E. Andersen:
- But there is also a need for rehabilitation in other extreme environments, for example in Antarctica or in submarines, where there is the same need for compressed training equipment that does not take up too much space.
But even though there are many analogies between training astronauts and retraining patients who have lost muscle strength after a long stay in bed, it is not a market that the Danish Aerospace Company yet have concrete plans to pursue.
– We have not actively pursued that market, but maybe one day, says Thomas A. E. Andersen.
Meet the researcher
Anders Stengaard Sørensen is an Associate Professor at SDU Health Informatics, The Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller Institute. He is behind the robotic training equipment RoboTrainer Light for the rehabilitation of weak patients.
Meet the researcher
Jakob Lindberg Nielsen is Postdoc in Muscle Physiology and Biomechanics at Department of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics. Has worked together with Anders Stengaard Sørensen in the development of robotic training equipment for patients.