NASA awarded contracts to Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace to provide spacesuits for International Space Station spacewalks and Artemis moonwalks, although neither the agency nor the winning companies offered many technical or financial details.
NASA announced June 1 it selected the two companies for Exploration Extravehicular Activity Services, or xEVAS, contracts to support the development of new spacesuits as well as purchasing spacesuit services. The companies will own the suits they develop and will effectively rent them to NASA for space station and Artemis missions, while also being able to offer the suits to other customers.
The goal, NASA officials said at a briefing about the awards, is to have lunar spacesuits ready for the Artemis 3 lunar landing mission, currently scheduled for no earlier than 2025. NASA will also conduct an “orderly transition” from existing, decades-old suits on the ISS to the new suits around the same time.
NASA earlier planned to develop suits internally though an effort known as the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or xEMU, but shifted gears to a services model with competition, building on the accomplishments of commercial cargo and crew transportation. NASA is making xEMU data and other capabilities available to the companies to support their work.
“I really believe that all of that data is helping to reduce the risk and speed that transition process up to the contractor community,” said Lara Kearney, manager of the extravehicular activity and human surface mobility program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. “We were at a great place to transition just because of how mature the xEMU was at the time.”
Axiom, which is working with a team of companies that includes David Clark Company, KBR and Paragon Space Development Corporation, intended to develop spacesuits to support its commercial space station plans.
“We have a number of customers who already would like to do a spacewalk,” explained Michael Suffredini, president and chief executive of Axiom, said at the briefing. “It’s fantastic to have a partnership where we can benefit from the years of experience that NASA has and all the work they’ve done to advance designs.”
Collins Aerospace, working with ILC Dover and Oceaneering, plans to make use of experience that includes development of the Apollo moonwalking suits and the spacesuits used today on ISS spacewalks.
“The goal is to take the foundations that NASA laid with the xEMU in partnership with industry and evolve that technology, and create a suit that is compatible with the entire spectrum of crew members,” said Dan Burbank, senior technical fellow at Collins.
Both Burbank, a former astronaut, and Suffredini, a former NASA ISS program manager, emphasized their commitment to meeting NASA’s extensive requirements for the suits, including being compatible with astronauts ranging in height from the 5th percentile woman to the 95th percentile man.
However, the companies provided few technical details about their suit designs, and NASA did not even have illustrations of the winning designs to show, electing instead to release an illustration of two moonwalking astronauts wearing suits not necessarily associated with either company. Collins did later release several illustrations of its proposed suit as well as images of that design being testing in a lab.
The total value of the xEVAS contracts is $3.5 billion through 2034, a figure that assumes all task orders are exercised. NASA officials at the briefing declined to break out that total between the two companies, stating that information will instead be in the source selection statement for the procurement, expected to be released publicly in late June. In many other commercial procurements, NASA has released the value of individual awards to companies.
NASA spokesperson Rebecca Wickes later told SpaceNews that the individual contract values will not be published in the source selection statement. Instead, that document will list the percentage difference in the prices compared to other bidders,
“We guaranteed them an amount to make sure we could get them going and they had skin in the game, and we’re going to be careful to protect that,” said Mark Wiese of NASA, who chaired the source selection board for the xEVAS competition. He did not disclose those guaranteed amounts.
“NASA will protect the exact amounts of contract guaranteed minimums and/or individual task order award amounts due to the proprietary nature of the commercial solutions while also protecting the ongoing competitive nature of this contract,” Wickes said.
NASA said in the statement that each company “has invested a significant amount of its own money” into development, but did not disclose those amounts. Burbank said that since he focused on the technical side of spacesuit development, he did not know how much the company had spent. Recent work for the xEVAS contract, he said, “is just the latest version of continual investment in internal R&D.”
Suffredini said that Axiom’s suit development was entirely internally funded. “Now you have to go figure out what that is,” he said.
Both companies said they expected to have spacesuits ready for testing on the ISS and for the Artemis 3 mission by the mid-2020s, but another company plans to test its own spacesuit in orbit before then. As part of the Polaris Program announced in February and funded by billionaire Jared Isaacman, SpaceX is developing a version of its Crew Dragon pressure suit that can be used for spacewalks. That suit will be tested on the Polaris Dawn mission scheduled for later this year.
Credit: Space News
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