NASA outsources development of Moon spacesuit to two private companies

Today, NASA announced that two private companies — Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace — will develop the next-generation spacesuits that future astronauts will wear to take spacewalks and eventually traverse the surface of the moon. It’s a bold new direction for space suit development at NASA, with the agency handing over the job to the private sector after years of struggling to develop a new suit of its own.

These new spacesuits will play a critical role in NASA’s Artemis program, the agency’s flagship initiative to send humans back to the lunar surface. Currently, NASA aims to land the first Artemis astronauts on the moon by 2025 — a one-year delay from the 2024 deadline originally set by the Trump administration. When the astronauts land, NASA wants them equipped with the proper spacesuits that they can use to explore the terrain of the moon.

there is much doubt that NASA may, however, meet the 2025 deadline, as much work remains to be done on the hardware and vehicles needed to make its first landing. But one of the most significant heists turned out to be the development of spacesuits. Multiple audits have shown that NASA’s quest to create next-generation suits has been inefficient, faced with numerous technical challenges and many years behind schedule. Now, after a 15-year struggle to create these new suits, the agency is handing over the reins to the commercial sector. Collins Aerospace has a history of building spacesuits because it helped create the current suits used by NASAwhile Axiom Space is a relatively new company focused on creating private space stations.

NASA has announced that the total value of the contracts is $3.5 billion, though the space agency won’t say the individual values ​​of each company’s contract, claiming information will be revealed in a source-selection statement to be published by the end of the month. The $3.5 billion is a cap that will cover the duration of the contracts, both partial development costs and future purchases of the suits for use by NASA. However, once the suits are ready, the companies will own them and have the option to use them for other purposes unrelated to NASA.

The suits are designed for a wide range of body types, from the 5th percentile for women to the 95th percentile for men. The goal is for the spacesuits to be ready to be worn by astronauts on Artemis III, the third launch of NASA’s new rocket, the Space Launch System, and the current target for the first landing. Artemis also aims to land the first woman and first person of color on the moon. “So that she has a suit that is the right size and tailored for her — that doesn’t feel like a spacecraft that feels like a rugged set of extreme sports outerwear — that should be the goal,” Dan Burbank, a former astronaut and senior tech fellow at Collins Aerospace, said at a news conference.

However, the new suits these companies are developing aren’t just for lunar exploration. NASA wants to pack a new line that is much more versatile than their predecessors and that can be used by both Artemis astronauts and astronauts when exploring the moon and to replace the aging suits on the International Space Station.

For the past four decades, NASA astronauts have relied on the same basic spacesuit design to perform spacewalks on the ISS. The suit, called the EMU, for Extravehicular Mobility Unit, made its debut during the Space Shuttle era, and an “improved” version is used by astronauts on the ISS to leave the lab and make improvements and repairs to the exterior. from the station. However, the EMUs have not been upgraded for decades and they are not intended to be used for lunar spacewalks. In addition, they are limited in size.

Artemis Generation Spacesuit Event

A prototype of NASA’s xEMU suit, in white, red and blue in the center, was unveiled in 2019.
Photo by Joel Kowsky/NASA via Getty Images

But the switch to a new spacesuit has proved difficult for NASA. The agency started new spacesuits in 2007 and has since spent a total of $420 million developing spacesuits. Those efforts eventually culminated in a new suit called the xEMU, a prototype of which was unveiled in 2019. At the time of the unveiling, NASA hoped to have two suits ready for testing on the space station before sending them to the lunar surface for landing in 2024.

But in August, an audit by NASA’s Office of Inspector General found that development of NASA’s new suits had been significantly slowed down by a lack of funds, technical difficulties and issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ultimately, the report claimed that the xEMU would not be ready by the Trump administration’s 2024 deadline. (A few months later, NASA moved the deadline to 2025.) The audit also noted that NASA would likely spend a total of $1 billion on space suits development by the time the first flight suits were ready, which would be “April at the earliest.” would be 2025″. †

Meanwhile, in April 2021, NASA made a request for information from private companies to design new spacesuits that could be used for Artemis missions. At the time, NASA said it would still continue to develop the xEMU internally, but the move indicated the agency could rely on commercial suits instead. “NASA has a responsibility to taxpayers and future explorers to re-examine its infrastructure as necessary to reduce costs and improve performance,” the agency wrote: when announcing the news.

Now NASA is setting all its expectations on Collins Aerospace and Axiom Space. The space agency said its engineers would continue testing on the xEMU through the end of the year, but eventually it will shift focus and provide insight to the commercial companies as they go along. In addition, the data and research that NASA collected during the development of xEMU will be made available to the two companies.

As for the companies’ ability to meet the 2025 deadline, that will become clear in the coming years. Collins Aerospace unveiled a prototype lunar suit in 2019, and today Burbank said the company has spent years developing a suit. As for Axiom Space, the company’s CEO Mike Suffredini also said suit development began a few years ago as the company has long considered making suits for its future space stations. “We have a number of customers who are already looking to do a spacewalk,” Suffredini said. “And we planned to build a suit as part of our program.”

Yet 2025 is only a few years away. NASA says it’s confident in the transition of spacesuit duties at this point, claiming the existing xEMU research will help “reduce risks” and speed things up. “We were in a great place to transition just because of the maturity of the xEMU at the time,” Lara Kearney, manager of the Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility Program at NASA, said at the conference. “And I think if they get it to these guys sooner, they can run.”

In addition, there are a slew of milestones that NASA and its commercial partners must meet for 2025 to work, including launching the agency’s new deep-space rocket for the first time and completing human lunar landers to take people to the moon. bring. surface. Space suits are just one part of the highly complex puzzle NASA must solve to return to the moon.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.