NASA picks Axiom Space to build the 'next-generation' Artemis III spacesuit
NASA announced on Wednesday, September 7, the maker of its next-generation spacesuit for its upcoming moon landings.
The space agency has chosen Axiom Space to create a moonwalking system for the Artemis III mission, which will send humans to the lunar surface for the first time since Apollo 17 in 1972. That mission, which is tentatively scheduled for 2025, will send the first woman and first person of color to the moon.
Earlier this year, Axiom Space chartered a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to send the first all-private astronaut mission, called Ax-1, to the International Space Station.
NASA's new spacesuits for Artemis III
NASA's agreement with Axiom Space is the first award of a competitive spacesuits contract NASA put out for companies to build next-gen Artemis spacesuits and supporting systems that would be demonstrated during Artemis III. The U.S. space agency chose Axiom Space over competitor Collins Aerospace, though the latter will still be eligible for future task orders including the development of new ISS spacesuits and "recurring spacesuit services" for later Artemis missions.
The new spacesuit contract is part of NASA's initiative to work with private companies to build many of the components of its Artemis missions, which will pave the way for humans to eventually reach Mars.
"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,” said Lara Kearney, manager of NASA’s Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility program. “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."
NASA has recently been under fire for sticking to traditional cost-plus contracts for the building of the Space Launch System (SLS) that will launch the Artemis missions to the moon. The agency has gone wildly over budget building its non-reusable rocket, while the likes of SpaceX are creating pioneering reusable technologies.
The 'next-generation spacesuit'
NASA and Axiom Space have revealed very little about the new suit, with the latter only teasing it in an image that shows the helmet and the upper torso, with both partially obscured in shadow. In a press statement, Axiom Space explained its suit is based on NASA's reference design called xEMU, and it incorporates "increased flexibility and specialized tools" for lunar exploration.
“Our team at Axiom Space is honored to be awarded this first task order to build the next-generation spacesuit,” Michael Suffredini, president and chief executive of Axiom Space, said in a statement. “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.”
NASA's statement, meanwhile, didn't detail why exactly it chose Axiom Space, though it did suggest pricing may have been a key point. The statement mentioned that Axiom's proposal was 23 percent below NASA’s independent government cost estimate, while Collins was two percent below. NASA did not share the specific costs in its statement.
Before NASA's Artemis III mission takes place, the space agency says Axiom Space will have to test the new space suits in "a spacelike environment". Artemis III is currently planned for 2025, though delays with the launch of Artemis I are an indicator that the first crewed moon landing in over 50 years may be pushed back a little further.