NASA’s current spacesuit design is in need of a revamp, and the agency has been looking around for a private firm to take on the task. On Wednesday it announced it had made a decision.
Texas-based Axiom Space will build NASA’s next-generation spacesuits for the Artemis III moon mission that will see American astronauts step onto the lunar surface for the first time in five decades.
The space agency announced its selection of Axiom Space on Wednesday, September 7, following a review of proposals from Axiom and North Carolina-based Collins Aerospace. The contract is worth $229 million.
NASA has selected @Axiom_Space to deliver a moonwalking system including advanced spacesuits for #Artemis III, the mission that will land Americans on the surface of the Moon for the first time in over fifty years. https://t.co/CbWf4YcSuF pic.twitter.com/d1mouJsU7o
— NASA Artemis (@NASAArtemis) September 7, 2022
If the name of the awardee sounds familiar, it’s probably because this is the company that organized NASA’s first-ever private astronaut trip to the International Space Station in April 2022. A second private mission operated by the company is slated for spring 2023.
NASA said that while its own engineers have stipulated the technical and safety requirements for the new spacesuit, Axiom will take care of its design, development, qualification, certification, and production, as well as the support equipment that will keep astronauts safe as they explore the lunar surface.
“NASA is proud to partner with commercial industry on this historic mission that will kickstart the United States building a lasting presence on the surface of the moon,” Lara Kearney, manager of NASA’s Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility program, said in a release. “What we learn on Artemis III and future missions on and around the moon will pave the way for missions to Mars. Spacesuits enable us to literally take that next step.”
Michael Suffredini, Axiom’s president and CEO, said his team is “honored” to be awarded the contract to build NASA’s next-generation spacesuit, adding: “Our modernized, evolvable spacesuits will enable rapid upgrades to implement better, safer technologies over time, ensuring our astronauts are always equipped with high performing, robust equipment. We look forward to providing our space pioneers with advanced tools needed to further humanity’s permanent expansion off the planet.”
It’s not clear when the Artemis III mission will take place as NASA is still trying to launch Artemis I. The uncrewed mission, which is designed to test NASA’s new SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft, suffered a setback last week when technical problems forced engineers to call off two separate launch attempts. A new launch date has yet to be decided.
When it finally gets off the ground, the SLS rocket will send the Orion capsule on a fly-by of the moon before returning to Earth about six weeks later. Artemis II will take the same path but with a crew on board, while Artemis III, together with a crew using Axiom’s new spacesuits, will attempt the first astronaut lunar landing since the final Apollo mission in 1972. It’s currently slated for 2025, but with Artemis I delayed, that date could slip.