Nasa announces spacesuit contracts for Moon mission

Nasa has selected two companies to develop its next generation spacesuits.

<p>An artists conception of Nasa astronauts using new spacesuits on the Moon</p>

An artists conception of Nasa astronauts using new spacesuits on the Moon

Nasa awarded two contracts Wednesday for the development of spacesuits for the space agency’s Moon program and the International Space Station.

Nasa selected private companies Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace to develop the new spacesuits, Vanessa Wyche, director of Nasa’s Johnson Space Center, announced at a Wednesday afternoon press conference.

“This is a historic day for us. The history will be made with these suits when we get to the Moon,” Wyche said. “We will have our first person of color and our first woman who will be users of these suits in space.”

Nasa’s Artemis Moon program aims to return humans to the surface of the Moon in 2025 as part of the Artemis III mission, with astronauts eventually spending weeks or months on the lunar surface during missions expected to launch once a year from 2027 onward into the 2030s. It will be the first human mission to the Moon since Apollo 17 in 1972.

But Nasa not only needs new spacesuits for the upcoming Moon mission. The space agency hopes to replace the aging space suits used for spacewalks of the ISS as well.

“The existing spacesuit has been the workhorse for the Agency for 40 years,” Nasa’s ISS programs operations integration manager Dina Contello said Wednesday. “The spacesuit technology, though, of course, at 40 years, is now aging. And so we’d like to try new future technologies.”

Unlike past Nasa spacesuit acquisitions from industry, the space agency is not purchasing spacesuits from industry, but purchasing spacesuit services. Both Axiom and Collins will retain ownership of the spacesuits and will compete for up to $3.5 billion awarded for the completion of specific task orders, according to Lara Kearney, the manager of the Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility program at Nasa’s Johnson Space Center.

“Theoretically, one company could win all of them,” she said. We will put the task orders out, we will compete them, we’ll evaluate them.”

At the same time, Ms Kearney said, Nasa would be happy to see a mix of Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace spacesuit services, which could provide both redundancy and competition to keep costs down. Nasa officials have made similar comments about awarding both SpaceX and Boeing contracts to develop spacecraft for Nasa’s Commercial Crew program and the recently launched competition for a second lunar lander contract.

Of the two companies, Collins Aerospace brings the most experience to the contract. The company designed and built the spacesuits for the US Space Shuttle program, the same spacesuits still used on the ISS today. And Hamilton Standard, before a series of acquisitions folded the company into the Collins Aerospace fold, designed the spacesuits used for the Apollo program.

Axiom Space is the newcomer. Most recently in the news for launching three space tourists to the ISS with the Axiom-1 mission, Axiom Space aims to build a commercial space station, a goal well matched to Nasa’s need for new spacesuit services.

“Axiom space has a need for a spacesuit,” Axiom Space president and CEO Michael Suffredini said at the press conference. “We have a number of customers that already would like to do a spacewalk. And we had planned to build a suit as part of our program

Nasa left it up to the companies to decide how they would go about designing the spacesuits, Ms Kearney said, and whether or not, for instance, they would design two more or more different versions for the very different environments of the ISS and the lunar surface. The space agency instead provided the companies with size, mass, performance, and fit constraints.

“We did levy the requirements that we fit a fifth percentile female to a 95th percentile male,” Ms Kearney said. “We believe their designs will do that.”

The two companies will also need to demonstrate their spacesuits work in a “relevant environment,” such as a simulator on the ground or aboard the space station, she said.

For the Artemis Moon mission, however, “The demonstration is actually the Artemis III,” Ms Kearney said. “We’re actually calling that flight the demonstration mission.”

Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace plan to begin demonstrations of their spacesuits by 2025, but neither the companies nor Nasa could provide any images of their prototype spacesuits during Wednesday’s press conference.

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