NASA Announces Companies Contracted to Create Competing Next-Gen Spacesuits

June 2, 2022 by Kate Michael
NASA Announces Companies Contracted to Create Competing Next-Gen Spacesuits
(NASA photo)

WASHINGTON — NASA on Wednesday announced two companies that have been newly contracted to produce next-generation spacesuits for use on the International Space Station as well as Artemis missions to the moon and Mars.

Texas-based Axiom Space and North Carolina-based Collins Aerospace were selected.

The pair of companies were chosen to provide some redundancy and maintain competition in the system, according to NASA representatives. These companies will compete to provide fresh takes on the iconic spacesuit that has been NASA’s workhorse over the last 40 years, but is now not only aging technology but under investigation for water leakage concerns.

“History will be made in these suits,” Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said, reminding that Artemis crews wearing these suits will include the first woman and first person of color on the Moon.


“Spacesuits have been an incredible part of every mission… and they continue to be a key focal point,” Lindsay Aitchison, program executive for the Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility Program at NASA’s headquarters added. She suggested that new spacesuits and a human rover system will help NASA to explore more of the moon than ever before, as well as support and encourage “a space economy.”

“We’re looking forward to bringing spacesuits into the modern age… and then on to the moon!”

Both companies have agreed to meet requirements and standards, including a demonstration in a relevant environment, with NASA certifying alongside continued development.

The next-gen suits must meet NASA’s needs for mass, interoperability with spacecraft systems, and safety, among other factors, such as specifications for a fit and sizing requirement that the suits be adaptable for the 5th percentile female to the 95th percentile male — with rapid resizing.


While suits for the earliest lunar missions in the Apollo program were all custom made, currently, suits on the ISS are modular spacesuits that fit a range of sizes. The goal to renew ISS suits and meet the mission for Artemis is a modular fit with new “tailorability,” according to Dan Burbank, senior technical fellow at Collins Aerospace and former NASA astronaut.

Through a “constantly evolving” process of design, build, test, and repeat, he said Collins Aerospace plans to create a suit compatible with the entire spectrum of crew members that “feels like a ruggedized set of extreme sport outerwear.”

“It shouldn’t feel like a spacecraft,” he said. “We want to be able to create an immersive environment that, for the crew member, gives them the most amount of mobility.”

Neither company had preliminary images to show as designs continue to be finalized, but a demonstration of the new suits could happen within a couple of years — with a target of 2025 to demonstrate at the ISS.

Once the suits are ready, they will be used with continuing operations on the ISS through 2030 as well as preparations for eventual crewed-landing missions to the moon and Mars.

“Not that the suit that exists today isn’t a great suit, but evolution is important,” Axiom CEO Michael Suffredini said. “You want to build a suit that can evolve over time; Refine it as we learn more, do the job better over the life of the suit, and once you get to the lunar surface as well.”


Kate can be reached at [email protected]

 

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