The first NASA Artemis astronauts to land on the Moon will wear privately developed spacesuits
After requesting proposals from U.S. companies in October last year, NASA has selected Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace to provide advanced and highly flexible spacesuits and associated services for future astronauts on the Moon as well as the International Space Station (ISS). Collins, who designed the Apollo suits, and Axiom notably beat out over 40 competitors, including SpaceX, Blue Origin and Sierra Space. NASA itself is dropping the development of its in-house xEMU suits in favor of the new proposals.
This move sees NASA double down on its “commercial” model bet to sustain lunar exploration, following decisions to purchase, rather than build, robotic and crewed lunar landers after success with equivalent ISS flights. This has implications for the process of developing and providing spacesuits.
- The selected companies will bid to provide spacesuits for future Artemis missions, starting with the very first crewed landing with Artemis III currently being targeted for a 2025 launch. Additional vendors might get on the bidding list in the future via an on-ramp option, just like how NASA’s CLPS program to send payloads on commercial lunar landers added 5 vendors in a later phase, which notably included SpaceX, Blue Origin and Sierra Space.
- NASA only defined the technical and safety standards for the spacesuits but won’t control how they’re met so as to encourage innovation in design, development, and production. That being said, NASA is making available all of its research on the in-house xEMU suits to accelerate development of the new suits while reducing risk. Here are some notable NASA requirements for the lunar spacesuits.
- Support six two-person spacewalks on the Moon during initial Artemis missions. After astronauts come back from spacewalks, the suits should release less than 100 grams of notorious lunar dust into the cabin to keep things safe.
- Support more and longer duration spacewalks on latter Artemis missions focusing on sustaining human presence on the Moon.
- The most interesting part (for me anyway): NASA wants astronauts to venture inside the scientifically-valuable permanently shadowed regionson the Moon’s south pole. The spacesuits therefore must let astronauts enter such regions, where temperatures are well below -180 degrees Celsius, and function nominally for at least 2 hours.
3. The companies are investing their own money too to develop the suits, and they must find customers other than NASA to convert the technologies built into an actual commercial business. NASA wouldn’t state the exact funding the agency is providing to Axiom and Collins but said the combined value of all service purchases through 2034 will be no more than $3.5 billion. As usual, Jeff Foust has detailed reporting on the matter. Note though that the U.S. Presidential FY 2023 NASA budget request released in March asks for $276 million instead of the previous $100 million to accelerate development of lunar spacesuits, crewed rovers and other mobility systems.
Aside: The official NASA webpage for this advanced spacesuits program has a cool URL slug: nasa.gov/suitup