NASA astronauts are getting a major wardrobe makeover.
The agency announced Wednesday that it has selected Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace to build its next generation of spacesuits to be used on the Artemis missions to the Moon and missions to the International Space Station. The companies were selected under the Exploration Extravehicular Activity tender, which grants the companies a potential of US$3.5 billion based on the products and services they will provide through 2034.
The suit is designed to facilitate exploration of the lunar surface as well as spacewalks outside of spacecraft orbiting the Earth and Moon. NASA is currently aiming for the suits to be ready by the time of the Artemis 3 mission, currently slated for 2025 – expected to return astronauts to the lunar surface for the first time in 50 years. The agency also said the two companies will also help develop space suits for future manned missions to Mars (although the timeline for that is still open).
The announcement is another sign that the agency is making big bets on private companies to provide the hardware that will be required for the next era in space.
“This is a historic day for us. History will be made in these suits when we reach the moon,” Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, said at a news conference on Wednesday, referring to the first woman and first person of color to set foot on the lunar surface as part of the Artemis missions.
NASA’s current space suits are inadequate for lunar missions. The agency needs something that can withstand the harsh conditions of the lunar surface, especially for astronauts tasked with exploring the moon’s south pole – one of the coldest regions in the entire solar system. They must offer a mixture of mobility and adequate protection from the jagged lunar rocks and dust. The suit must also be built with long-term colonization and exploration efforts in mind.
The new suits will replace NASA’s arguably dilapidated 40-year-old suits currently in use aboard the ISS. On March 23, the agency halted spacewalks after a German astronaut Matthias Maurer reported during a mission that water had entered his helmet — possibly from the suit’s water-cooling system. While the agency reported that the problem posed no threat to Maurer, the event underscored what NASA has known for years: Their space suits are woefully outdated.
In fact, a 2017 report by the agency’s office of inspector general found that not only was the current inventory of suits incredibly old, but NASA was also running out. The report noted that the ISS had only 11 operational suits on board. Which suits are available have an “expiry date” that has been extended to 2028 – although recent helmet leaks could shorten that by a few years.
NASA announced a new prototype suit for both the ISS and Artemis missions back in 2019. However, the lawsuit was delayed last year due to funding bottlenecks.
Fascinatingly, however, the agency barely went into details during the press conference What that’s exactly what they expect from the two companies in terms of the spacesuit itself. According to an agency press release, the contract calls for an “indefinite delivery and indefinite quantity, milestone-based” award system. That means there isn’t a set amount or specific mission in which these suits are used.
Lara Kearney, manager of NASA’s Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility Program, said at the press conference that there will be a demonstration “in the next year or two” to showcase the spacesuits’ capabilities. However, she added that the agency would leave the terms of the demonstration to the two companies, saying it could take place “on the space station” or “lunar simulation environments on the ground.” That’s a whole lot of leash two private companies have with billions of dollars at stake.
“We have some requirements of our own,” Michale Suffrendini, CEO of Axiom Space, said at the press conference. He later added, “Every business needs to have the design and built-in performance and built-in security. So now with this concept we have to go back and certify on our own terms that it works under one roof.”
Bottom line: NASA relies a lot of its chips on private companies to build these suits largely on their own terms. The agency’s decision to hand over cloakroom duties to a private company is a solid signal that it wants to accelerate the process to meet its ambitious goal of reaching the lunar surface by 2025. In doing so, they rely heavily on private companies to develop their next generation of manned space suits with potentially little oversight, vague benchmarks, and an astronomical price tag.
https://www.thedailybeast.com/nasas-spacesuit-contract-with-axiom-space-and-collins-aerospace-is-a-big-fat-expensive-gamble?source=articles&via=rss NASA’s spacesuit contract with Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace is a big, fat, and expensive venture