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Orlan-M (via ESA)

The Russian spacesuits in use aboard the International Space Station are the latest variant of the Orlan series.

Orlan is Russian for “Sea Eagle”. All Russian space- and pressure suits are named after birds. The suit worn on the Soyuz spaceship is the Sokol or “Falcon”. Other previous suits have been:

Like previous Orlan versions, the Orlan-M and -MK made by the Research, Development & Production Enterprise Zvezda (НПП «Звезда»), the company which has produced all Russian spacesuits and survival equipment since it was established on 2 October 1952. They are located in Tomilino, Moscow region.


The Russian word for spacesuit is skafandr, скафандр (plural skafandry, скафандры). The “M” stands for modernized, modernizirovannyi, модернизированный. Russians don’t seem to have a formal acronym for a spacewalk (as in EVA). These terms are generally used:


ESA and Zvezda had begun development work on a joint spacesuit called EVA SUIT 2000 in the early 1990s, but this was cancelled late in 1994 due to financial constraints on both sides. In 1995, when the Shuttle-Mir and ISS programs were underway, Zvezda decided to modify its next batch of Orlan-DMA suits destined for Mir with various improvements. Orlan-M suits numbered 4, 5 and 6 were delivered to Mir in 1997 and used for 36 spacewalks.

Zvezda and the U.S. manufacturer of NASA’s EMU suits, Hamilton-Sundstrand have also co-operated in ISS spacesuit development. Two Orlan suits were delivered to support training in the NASA hydrolab. The Orlan was also enabled so it could be used in the U.S. joint airlock, Quest, via a portable unit called the BSS-2M, БСС-2М; it is a suit control panel (БУС, BUS) and a bundle of hoses with electric cables. Parts from the U.S. EMU spacesuits can also be used in the Orlan-M, e.g. the headlamps and drinking water supply.

A main characteristic of all Russian Orlans is the duplication of all main life-support systems. There are two fans, two pumps, two hermetically-sealed shells, two sealed glass visors, two oxygen cylinders. Even if the metallic cuirass, made from an aluminum alloy, suddenly on cracks for some reason, this is not a disaster. From inside it is covered with a rubberized fabric.


The Orlan-M is a spacesuit of the semi-rigid type, with a hard aluminium-alloy torso (cuirass) and arms and legs made of a softer material. It is an improved version of the previous spacesuit, the Orlan-DMA, taking into account the operational experiences of those using this spacesuit. It is strictly for zero-gravity use; its current design could not be used on the Moon or Mars as it is too heavy.

The Orlan operates at a pressure of 0.4 atmospheres (EMU at 0.3 atm.), enabling a pre-breathe time of only 30 minutes (in the EMU pre-breathe is 12 hours in the Joint Airlock, or 4 hours in the EMU itself). The drawback is that the higher pressure means that the Orlan is somewhat more difficult to move in.

Before climbing into the Orlan, the wearer first dons long white underwear, then the blue-colored cooling garment, which is interlaced with cooling tubes through which water flows.

The Orlan is easily donned; the user floats into it via the backpack, whose door swings open like a refrigerator’s. All essential equipment in the backpack – hermetically-sealed shell, fans, water pumps, pressure regulators, oxygen cylinder, radio, etc. – has backups/duplicates. (NASA considers its EMU’s systems completely reliable, so they are not duplicated.)

The suits must be maintained and repaired in orbit by the on-board crew with special tools; they are not returned to Earth for maintenance as there is no room in the Soyuz spaceship. The Orlan has a useful life of 4 years or up to 15 EVAs, limited by its pressure bladder which is made of natural rubber (which deteriorates over time).

The suits are usually bundled into a Progress cargo ship and burn up when the ship is undocked and enters the atmosphere. Unfortunately this means that few suits worn in orbit will make it to museums, though removable parts of the suits (gloves, visors) can be souvenired and taken back to Earth.

A new scheme is to fit the suit to be discarded with amateur radio communications equipment, push it from the ISS during a spacewalk and turn it into a “SuitSat,” an orbiting Amateur Radio transmitter! The first was “launched” on 3 February 2006 by Expedition 12, to orbit for a few weeks before atmospheric drag pulled it towards Earth.

During Expedition 14’s stay in 2006, Suit №26 developed a leak and spare parts arrived on Progress M-58: two new arms that were attached by Mikhail Tyurin on 14 November (see photo ISS014-E-07859.jpg). A new leg was brought up on M-59. This would prolong the suit’s life until December 2007 (originally set to expire in December 2006).

Mir/ISS suit Orlan-M
Official name Orlan-M spacesuit, «Орлан-М» скафандр
Description This spacesuit of the semi-rigid type was an Orlan-DMA spacesuit modification. The Orlan-M design took into account the experience of Orlan-DMA operations on Mir and the additional requirements imposed by operations on the ISS. The suit underwent the following modifications:
  • The suit’s dimensions were enlarged in the waist area and the entry hatch was moved upward.
  • An additional helmet-top window and protective glass for the main window were introduced.
  • A calf bearing and the third pressure bearing (elbow) on the suit arm were introduced.
  • One of the safety tethers was given variable length.
  • CCC capacity was increased.

Power supply, radio communication and telemetry were available for self-contained mode (from the backpack) and via the 25-m electrical umbilical from the station. Owing to the above, the service characteristics (mobility, donning/doffing, field of view, etc.) were improved. The anthropometric ranges of chest circumference and height were improved (96-112 cm and 164-190 cm, respectively). The suit was provided with attachment points for SAFER.

Utilisation (operations)
  • Mir: 1997-2000 for 18 paired EVAs
  • ISS: 2001-31 December 2002 for 9 paired EVAs
Development and operation dates Development and tests: 1995-1997. Nominal operations: 1997-up to the present
Quantity of manufactured spacesuits (as at 31 December 2002)
  • Test and training models: 17
  • Flight models: 7
Main technical characteristics of the Orlan-M spacesuit
Nominal duration of the autonomous mode 7 hours
CO2 absorption cartridge operating time (with airlock time included) 9 hours
Suit positive pressure
  • Nominal mode: 392 hPa
  • Emergency mode: 270 hPa
Spacesuit pressure
  • Primary mode: 400 hPa
  • Reserve mode: 392 hPa
Oxygen available (main and back-up) 1 kg each
Amount of O2 emergency supply, manually activated (kg hr1−1) 2
Cooling water available 3.6 kg
Assured heat removal
  • Average: 350 W
  • Maximum: Up to 600 W
Total consumed power by the suit systems Up to 54 W
Quantity of telemetry measured parameters 29
On-board system
  • Mir: BSS-2M
  • ISS: BSS-4
Spacesuit weight (wet) ~109 kg
Service life Up to 15 VKDs (EVAs) over 4 years (no return to the Earth)

(Source: Russian spacesuits.)


A new version of the Orlan, the Orlan-MK, was delivered to the ISS in September 2008 on Progress M-65 (Orlan-MK №1170004, blue stripes). Two more were delivered in 2009: Orlan №005 (red stripes) on Progress M-66, and №006 (blue stripes) on Progress M-02M. As with previous Orlans, NPO Zvezda are the designers and makers of the MK.

The MK’s main development is the replacement of the radio-telemetry equipment (BRTA, БРТА) in the Portable Life Support System backpack with a small digital computer (located in the lower – nonhermetic – part of the suit). This computer will process information from the spacesuit’s various systems and indicate malfunctions. The necessary recommendations to deal with these are displayed on a new liquid crystal display (LCD) screen on the right chest part of the spacesuit. Cosmonauts previously had to memorize contingency plans.

If there is a life-support failure, the cosmonaut will hear a buzzer alarm through his headset – prompting him to look at the digital display – and the display color will change from green to orange, recommending what course of action to take. For example, a pressure drop will be indicated on the display with the instructions to insert the injector.

The Orlan-MK can work in two modes: with the digital computer (as the MK) or without (as the previous M version). Even if the main computer malfunctions, then a special additional unit will immediately take over.

In July 2010 the color of the display units was changed:

Fyodor Yurchikhin preformed firmware upgrades to the display units on all three Orlan-MK suits.  The upgrade changed the backlighting from green to orange for all display modes.  Crewmember reports and ground analysis post-RS EVA-24 determined that the green backlighting interfered with display character visibility from inside the suit looking through the helmet visor while the orange backlighting did not have interference. After the upgrade activity, the crew reported it was still difficult to see the characters on the display screen—the problem appears to be a suit issue and not display related. The possibility of using Fresnel lenses was suggested as a partial interim solution for visibility as distance from the display seemed to be a factor as well.

The spacesuit is divided into two hermetically-sealed shells: primary and reserve. Even if the cuirass is cracked, this is not catastrophic as it is coated with a rubberized fabric on the inside so external microscopic cracks do not influence the airtightness of the suit.

The Orlan-MK has a water supply for a cosmonaut to drink; the 1-liter container is secured to the inside of the suit’s front, and a tube with a mouthpiece is placed near the cosmonaut’s face.

It weighs around 120 kg, is certified for 4 years in orbit and 15 EVAs.

Orlan spacesuits have generally been reliable with few anamolous incidents. The spacesuit of Aleksandr Kaleri suffered a cooling system malfunction during the ISS-8 crew’s only spacewalk. It was later established that he had accidently pinched the cooling tubes on entering the spacesuit. The spacesuit designers made changes to ensure this did not happen again.

Spacesuit testing was conducted according to 50 parameters (which cosmonauts previously had to memorize during training).

As with previous Orlans, each Orlan-MK passed special strength testing. For example, in order to verify the strength of the glass visor, a pendulum was swung at it from the distance of a meter with a lead striker on its cone. The force of impact comprised more than 100 kilograms. Furthermore, the designers bombarded the spacesuit with particles having a diameter of less than a millimeter. Exactly the same particles travel in open space with a speed of tens of km/s and are capable of damaging skin. At first all sections of a spacesuit were tested separately, then they were checked as a whole. Moreover during the tests it must maintain pressures 3 times greater than those it will actually experience in space.

More on the Orlan-MK from Novosti Kosmonavtiki news №711:

24/06/2008/20:31 On the ISS next year crews will work in open space in the new “smart” Russian spacesuit

On the ISS, where crews are now working in open space, the complete replacement of the “Orlan-M” Russian spacesuit with the more modern “Orlan-MK” is scheduled. The first Orlan-MK will be taken into orbit at the end of this year on a Progress Russian cargo ship, and in early 2009, to the International Space Station will receive two more, Sergei Pozdnyakov – general director of the “Zvezda” Scientific and industrial enterprise, where all domestic spacesuits are manufactured – said Tuesday.

The new spacesuits will gradually replace the ISS Orlan-M at the end of their life, which have faithfully “served” several crews.

The Orlan-MK is the fifth Orlan version and the first computerized Russian spacesuit, Pozdnyakov said. In the process of donning the suit, it prompts the cosmonaut for the sequence of system checks he must follow before going out in open space and reports on the status of these systems. If there are abnormal situations – for example, increased consumption of oxygen, etc. – relevant information is displayed on the signal panel, with a warning beep and instructions on what procedure to follow.

The new “intelligent” spacesuit would avoid situations like what happened during the exit of ISS Expedition 9 in June 2004. At the very beginning of EVA activities, the TsUP Mission Control Center specialists recorded an oxygen leak in Michael Fincke’s spacesuit, and the crew was forced to return to the station. The determination of the cause of the pressure drop in the Orlan took several hours, and the EVA was postponed for a few days. Now the spacesuit itself will “communicate” with the cosmonaut as to the reason for his “malaise”.

According to Pozdnyakov, ISS Expedition 18, which will be launched into orbit in October, has already trained to operate the Orlan-MK. If a cosmonaut forgets a procedure during an EVA, a special program will help him translate into the more simple Orlan-M management regime.

The new EVA suit weighs 120 kg and has a service life of 15 EVAs within 4 years of operation. In open space it protects the cosmonaut from the low barometric pressure, ionizing radiation, solar power, and micrometeorites. The system uses a high-performance thermal method of diverting the heat emitted by man through a water cooling garment. The intensity of heat removal is manually controlled by the cosmonaut by reallocating water flows coming in the heat exchanger for cooling.

M: Модернизированни
K: Компютеризированниы


The successor to the Orlan-MK will be the Orlan-MKS, the first prototypes to appear in 2012, and to come into service by 2015. The “MKS” designation means that it has been modified, with a computer and a synthetic cover ( модифицированный, с компьютером и синтетической оболочкой).

A Roskosmos news release, 23 June 2010:

New EVA Space Suit to be Developed in Russia by 2012

New Russian EVA space suits will be developed by the end of 2011, Sergey Pozniakov, NPP Zvezda DG, told Interfax.

The suit designed under the order of the Russian Federal Space Agency are planned for use in the International Space Station.

The suits will be equipped by automatic thermal regulation systems, and rubber surface will be replaced by polyurethane, to extend life time of the suits.

The MKS will provide automatic temperature control for the microclimate inside the suit, rather than have the cosmonauts adjust this manually via the warm-cold switch.

Polyurethane will be used instead of rubber for the survival suit’s cover. Polyurethane is durable and does not tear when damaged; instead the material seals itself up. It will make the Orlan more mobile and comfortable. It will increase the spacesuit’s inflight life from 4-5 years to 6-7. At the same time the quantity of spacewalks in which it will be possible to use the new Orlan will be increased. The Orlan-M is calculated to last for 12 extravehicular activities of a duration of about 6 hours, the Orlan-MK for 15 EVAs, and the Orlan-MKS for 20 EVAs.

Water cooling garment

This is a skintight bodysuit worn under the spacesuit to regulate body temperature by removing heat buildup. It is a blue-colored mesh suit woven with elastic tubes that circulate water through the suit. It is manufactured in 4 sizes. In Russian its name is: Костюм водяного охлаждения (КВО-М) – Kostyum vodyanogo okhlazhdeniya (KVO-M).

KVO-M specifications
Magnitude of heat removal Up to 400 W
Total length of tubes 65 m
Weight (refilled) 3 kg


Illustrations scanned from Russian Spacesuits:

Miscellaneous images:

Updated 18 Jul 2015