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Spanish company NTE-Sener has used Solidworks software to develop a sophisticated system that tests the strength of astronauts in space in order to help combat muscle atrophy.

The Muscle Atrophy Research and Exercise System (Mares), which was developed for the European Space Agency (ESA), consists of an adjustable chair with a system of pads, levers, electronics, software and a motor 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.

Albert Catalan, mechanical engineer at NTE-Sener, said: ‘Solidworks has been a great change from our previous CAD software.

‘It helped us quickly create concepts, review them in vivid 3D detail with Nasa and develop a very sophisticated design, simulating real-world forces on the Mares system along the way,’ he added.

The design requirements were rigorous; Mares needed 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 needed to be modular so that astronauts could assemble, disassemble, stow and operate it.

NTE-Sener used Solidworks to achieve several design goals.

For example, Solidworks helped to ensure proper fit in the space shuttle by seamlessly exchanging data with Solidworks users at Nasa.

The software was also used to pack myriad components into the shuttle’s restricted space and to detect any interference among parts.

NTE-Sener used Solidworks to reduce the risk of failure and injury by analysing the effect of real-world physical forces on the Mares system.

The software also enabled the accommodation of several parts designed by another engineering company.

Finally, the Solidworks software enabled the sharing of data with manufacturing partners in their preferred form, whether Solidworks model, Step file or drawing.

Manuel Canchado Morales, head of NTE-Sener’s mechanical engineering department, said: ‘Solidworks has helped us quickly and cost-effectively develop an important system that could dramatically improve the quality of space exploration and the health of our astronauts.

‘And the things we learn in space could be useful on the ground, both for astronauts and the rehabilitation community.

‘The research could ultimately refine care for victims of paralysis, trauma or prolonged immobilisation,’ he added.

NTE-Sener relies on authorised Solidworks reseller Cimworks for ongoing software training, implementation and support.

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