Today, NASA announced that two private companies — Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace — will develop the next-generation spacesuits that future astronauts will wear to conduct spacewalks and eventually traverse the surface of the Moon. It’s a bold new direction for spacesuit development at NASA, with the agency handing the job over to the private sector after years of struggling to develop a new suit of its own.
These new spacesuits will play a critical role in NASA’s Artemis program, the agency’s flagship initiative to send humans back to the lunar surface. Currently, NASA is aiming to land the first Artemis astronauts on the Moon by 2025 — a one-year delay from the 2024 deadline originally set by the Trump administration. When the astronauts do land, NASA wants them to be equipped with proper spacesuits they can use to explore the Moon’s terrain.
There’s plenty of doubt that NASA can meet the 2025 deadline, though, as there’s still a significant amount of work left to do on the hardware and vehicles needed to achieve the first landing. But one of the primary holdups has turned out to be spacesuit development. Multiple audits have revealed that NASA’s quest to create next-generation suits has been inefficient, faced numerous technical challenges, and is many years behind schedule. Now, after 15 years of struggle to make these new suits, the agency is handing the reins over to the commercial industry. Collins Aerospace has history with spacesuit building, as it helped to create the current suits used by NASA, while Axiom Space is a relatively new company aimed at creating private space stations.
NASA announced that the total value of the contracts is $3.5 billion, though the space agency would not say the individual values of each company’s contract. The $3.5 billion is a ceiling that covers the life of the contracts, encompassing both partial development costs and future purchases of the suits for use by NASA. Once the suits are complete, though, the companies will own them and have the option to use them for other purposes unrelated to NASA.
The suits are meant to fit a wide range of body types, from the 5th percentile female to the 95th percentile male. The goal is for the spacesuits to be ready to be worn by astronauts on Artemis III, the third launch of NASA’s new rocket, the Space Launch System, and the current target for the first landing. Artemis also strives to land the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon. “So that she has got a suit that’s appropriately sized and tailored for her — that doesn’t feel like a spacecraft that feels like a ruggedized set of extreme sports outerwear — that should be the goal,” Dan Burbank, a former astronaut and senior tech fellow at Collins Aerospace, said during a press conference.
The new suits that these companies develop aren’t meant just for lunar exploration, though. NASA wants a new line of suits that are much more versatile than their predecessors to be used by both Artemis astronauts when exploring the Moon and to replace the aging suits on the International Space…