NASA has issued the call to double down on options for new spacesuits on the International Space Station and for future Artemis astronauts to walk on the moon.
The U.S. Space Agency issued a new $10 million job order on July 10 for new suit options from Axiom Aerospace and Collins Aerospace, building on pre-existing contracts with the companies to provide suit designs for extravehicular activities (EVAs, or spacewalks). NASA initially selected Axiom to build a lunar spacesuit for Artemis astronauts, while Collins worked on a new suit for spacewalking astronauts working in weightlessness outside the International Space Station (ISS).
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Axiom will now redesign its lunar suit so that it can also be used for ISS operations, while Collins will work to review and modify the suit’s design to make it suitable for operations on the lunar surface. Each company will get $5 million for the work, NASA officials said.
“Our next-generation spacesuit design is nearly 90% compatible with a lunar mission,” Dave Romero, Collins Aerospace director for EVA & Human Surface Mobility Systems, said in a statement following the NASA announcement. “This formal contract award supports ongoing efforts to customize our next-generation spacesuit to make it suitable for tasks on the Moon.”
The new job orders should also help drive new suit innovations through competition between the two companies, while also providing a back-up plan for NASA in case one of the suit designs runs into trouble.
“These job orders position NASA for success should additional capabilities become necessary or beneficial to NASA’s missions as the agency paves the way for deep space exploration and commercialization of low Earth orbit,” Lara Kearney, manager of the Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility Program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, NASA said in a statement. “By using this competitive approach, we will improve redundancy, expand future capabilities and further invest in the space economy.”
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The two companies will now begin modifying their respective suit designs to adapt them to operate in the two vastly different environments of low Earth orbit and the lunar surface. Once these initial redesigns are put on paper, NASA will review and review the two designs and determine whether one or both will be given the go-ahead for further development.
“Proposing astronauts performing EVAs off the ISS wearing Axiom Space suits, based on the original NASA design, would honor everyone who has ever worked on NASA’s past suits and those who work on NASA’s spacesuits of the past.” the future,” Russell Ralston, Axiom Space EVA deputy program manager, said in a company statement on July 10.
Once a company’s suit design is accepted by NASA, the company is instructed to develop an operational suit, including extensive safety testing and eventual test flight demonstration in low Earth orbit and on the lunar surface. The spacesuit ultimately chosen by NASA will remain in service through 2034, and NASA expects to issue follow-up task orders for suit modifications as needed to ensure the safety and effectiveness of the new suits.