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NASA hires two private companies to develop the lunar space suit

NASA announced today that two private companies – Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace – will develop the next-generation spacesuits that future astronauts will wear to conduct spacewalks and eventually cross the surface of the Moon. It’s a bold new direction for NASA’s spacesuit development, with the agency handing the task over to the private sector after years of struggling to develop a new suit of its own.

These new spacesuits will play an important role in NASA’s Artemis program, the agency’s groundbreaking initiative to return humans to the lunar surface. NASA is currently aiming to land the first Artemis astronauts on the Moon by 2025 – a one-year delay from Deadline 2024 It was originally determined by the Trump administration. When astronauts land, NASA wants them to be equipped with appropriate spacesuits that they can use to explore the terrain of the Moon.

there Much doubt that NASA It could meet the 2025 deadline, though, as there is still a significant amount of work remaining on the hardware and vehicles needed to achieve the first landing. But the development of spacesuits later turned out to be one of the main reasons for the disruption. Multiple checks It revealed that NASA’s quest to create next-generation suits was ineffective, faced many technical challenges, and was many years behind schedule. Now, after 15 years of struggling to make these new suits, the agency is handing the reins over to the commercial industry. Collins Aerospace has a history of building spacesuits Help create the current suits used by NASAwhile Axiom Space is a relatively new company that aims to create private space stations.

NASA announced that The total contract value is $3.5 billion, although the space agency will not state individual contract values ​​for each company. $3.5 billion is the cap that covers the life of the contracts, and includes both partial development costs and future purchases of suits for use by NASA. Once the allowances are complete, companies will own them and have the option to use them for other purposes unrelated to NASA.

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The suits are meant to fit a wide range of body types, from the female 5th percentile to the 95th percentile male. The goal is for spacesuits to be ready-to-wear 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 strives to land the first woman and first person of color on the moon. Dan Burbank, a former senior astronaut and technical associate at Collins Aerospace, said during a press conference.

However, the new suits these companies are developing aren’t just for lunar exploration. NASA wants a new set of suits that are more versatile than their predecessors for use by Artemis astronauts when exploring the Moon and to replace old suits on the International Space Station.

Over the past four decades, NASA astronauts have relied on the same basic spacesuit design to perform spacewalks on the International Space Station. Dubbed the EMU, for the Extravehicular Mobility Module, the suit first appeared during the space shuttle era, and astronauts use an “improved” version on the International Space Station to leave the lab and make improvements and repairs to the station’s exterior. Despite this, EMUs have not been upgraded in decades, and they are not intended for use in spacewalks on the Moon. Plus, It was limited in size.

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

But the transition to wearing a new spacesuit has proven difficult for NASA. The agency began work on new spacesuits in 2007 and has spent a total of $420 million developing spacesuits since then. These efforts eventually culminated in a new suit called xEMU, which was a prototype for it It was unveiled back in 2019. At the time of disclosure, NASA was hoping to have two suits ready for testing at the space station before being sent to the lunar surface for a landing in 2024.

But, in August, a review by NASA’s Office of Inspector General found that the development of new NASA suits too late Due to lack of funds, technical problems and issues associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. In the end, the report claimed that XEMU would not be ready by the Trump administration’s 2024 deadline. (A few months later, NASA Move deadline to 2025.) The audit also indicated that NASA will likely spend $1 billion on developing spacesuits by the time the first flight suits will be ready, which would be “April 2025 at the earliest.”

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

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

As for the companies’ capabilities to meet the 2025 deadline, it will be implemented over the next few years. Collins Aerospace has revealed a prototype of a lunar suit Back in 2019 Today, Burbank said the company has already spent years developing on a suit. As for Axiom Space, the company’s CEO Mike Suffredini also said that development of the suit began a few years ago, as the company has long considered making suits for its future space stations. “We have a number of clients who really want to do a spacewalk,” Suffredini said. “And we had planned to build a suit as part of our programme.”

2025 is still only a few years away. NASA says it’s confident transferring spacesuit duties at this juncture, claiming that current xEMU research will help “reduce risk” and speed things up. “We were in a great place to go, just because of how mature xEMU was at the time,” Lara Kearney, director of the Extravehicular Activity and Surface Human Mobility Program at NASA, said during the conference. “And I think that getting those people out sooner allows them to run.”

In addition, there are a whole host of milestones that NASA and its commercial partners need to meet in order to make 2025 a success, including the launch of the agency’s new deep space rocket for the first time and the completion of a human lunar landing to take people to the moon. Surface appearance. Space suits are just one piece of the highly complex puzzle that NASA must solve to get back to the moon.

Correction June 1, 7:53 PM ET: An earlier version of this story stated that individual contract values ​​will be revealed at the end of the month, based on information received during a NASA press conference. NASA later clarified that this information was inaccurate and the information was removed.

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