The suits will also be worn by crew members who live and work on the International Space Station. The orbital laboratory is not just a testing ground for space exploration, but a new technology as well.
The contracts were awarded by NASA as part of its strategy to grow commercial partnerships.
Both companies were selected to move forward with the development of the next generation of spacesuits. Depending on how the two companies deliver the suits and their spacewalking capabilities, one company could outperform the other. This flexibility has been incorporated into the Task Awards as the two companies progress in product development.
“With these awards, NASA and our partners will develop advanced, reliable spacesuits that will allow humans to explore the universe unlike ever before,” Vanessa Wecchi, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said in a statement.
“By partnering with industry, we are efficiently working on developing the technology needed to keep Americans on the path to successful discovery on the International Space Station while we set our sights on lunar exploration.”
Experts from NASA have developed the safety and technical standards required for spacesuits. Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace will design, develop and produce the suits and any necessary equipment for the space station crew and Artemis astronauts.
“The current spacesuit has been the backbone of the agency for 40 years and has helped maintain and use the International Space Station as well as build it,” said Dina Contella, director of operations integration for the International Space Station program at NASA.
“We will be making an orderly transition away from our current spacesuits to the new spacesuit. We look forward to working with providers as partners and bringing the ISS and their spacesuits into the modern age, then helping the agency on its way to the moon.”
The suits are expected to be ready by mid-2020. The new suits and their capabilities will help us explore more of the Moon than ever before, said Lindsey Aitchison, executive director of NASA’s Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility Program.
“We will be able to test these capabilities, and they will be tested before our astronauts are used in orbit or either on the lunar surface,” Wyche said.
The first steps include the two companies delivering suits for demonstration outside the space station as well as for the landing of Artemis III on the lunar surface.
“Our commercial partnerships will help advance our goals of human exploration,” Mark Kerasich, associate deputy director of NASA’s Artemis campaign development division, said in a statement.
“We look forward to using these services for NASA’s continued presence in low Earth orbit and our next achievement of returning American astronauts to the lunar surface.”
The contracts support everything necessary for spacewalks through 2034. The agency is sharing ground-test and spaceflight data from previous spacewalks and NASA’s Extravehicular Mobility Module development project with Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace.
Previously, the development project was designing the suits.
A 2021 report by NASA Inspector General Paul K. Martin said the agency’s goal of returning American astronauts to the Moon by 2024 was not feasible due to significant delays in spacesuit development.
Although NASA has spent more than $1 billion on next-generation spacesuits, Martin concluded that “the suits will not be ready to fly until April 2025 at the earliest” and “years away from completion.”
“I really believe all of this data helps reduce risk and accelerate this transition to the contractor community,” said Lara Kearney, director of the Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility Program at NASA.
According to officials, the maximum potential contract value is $3.5 billion for all awarded mission orders.
“Not only are we meeting NASA’s goals, but we are also helping to support and encourage the emerging space economy so that in the future not only will NASA’s EVA services be available, but there will be a range of customers that can purchase that in the future,” Aitchison said.
The two companies have also invested their own money in the development of the suits and will own the space suits.
“The public-private partnership is really a benefit to NASA and it will allow us to have the ability to use, and then also, they will have that so they can make it available to non-NASA customers,” Wyche said.
“So it’s a mutual investment where we both get something out of it.”
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