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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.

Photo gallery

Orlan-MK being prepared for launch on Progress M-02M
Orlan-MK №6 being prepared for launch on Progress M-02M, 16/4/2009
Maxim Suraev with Orlan spacesuits
Maxim Suraev with two Orlan-MK spacesuits on the ISS (№4 blue stripes; №5 red stripes), 11/1/2010