NASA has named the long-awaited designers who will build the next generation of spacesuits. Axiom Space and a team led by Collins Aerospace have won the agency’s Exploration Extravehicular Activity Services (xEVAS) contract, and will dress the next astronauts to return to the lunar surface.
The background: NASA’s astronauts need new clothes for a new era of spaceflight.. The old spacesuits that have been used for EVAs for the last four decades have been showing their age recently. Last month, NASA pressed pause on spacewalks due to water leaking in the helmet of astronaut Matthias Maurer’s suit mid-EVA.
NASA had been designing its own spacesuit for Artemis through its Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU) program, which would have replaced the old batch. The agency spent ~$420M designing spacesuits over a whopping 14 years of development.
- In August, a NASA Office of Inspector General report found that the suits would not be ready in time for the planned launch of Artemis III, the next crewed NASA mission to the moon.
- The same report found that if NASA continued developing its own spacesuits, the total cost of development would top $1B.
- Instead of finishing development on the suits, NASA decided to roll the dice with the commercial sector, in the hopes they’d be able to field new EVA suits quicker and cheaper.
- NASA passed on the lessons learned from xEMU development to the companies vying for the xEVAS contract, but didn’t stipulate that bidders use xEMU design elements in their proposals.
Contract deets: Through the xEVAS contract, NASA may procure up to $3.5B worth of spacesuits from now through 2034. The agency said it will release the exact value of the contracts, which includes a certain guaranteed amount for each contractor. The two companies will have the opportunity to compete for future task orders.
Full circle: During a Wednesday NASA presser, Axiom CEO Michael Suffredini said his company needs spacesuits anyway. It is building its own space station, after all. Both Axiom and Collins aim to secure other customers for their spacesuits. And with a handful of new space stations destined for LEO in the near future through either NASA’s Commercial LEO Destinations program or private development, the market for these suits may well continue to grow.