NASA has used the current spacesuits on the International Space Station for decades, and they show their age.
“The spacesuits that NASA now uses on the International Space Station are suits that were actually designed in the 1970s. They are suits that were originally designed for the space shuttle program. Due to a lack of funding, NASA continued to work on constantly repairing and maintaining them after many years. But they are actually suits that are at the end of their life,” says Pablo De León, director of the Human Spaceflight Laboratory at the University of North Dakota.
NASA had problems not only with finding the right size to suit his increasingly diverse crew of astronauts, but also with the degradation of some parts of the suit. Now the agency is turning to two commercial companies: Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace, a subsidiary Raytheon Technologies, build and maintain their new generation of spacesuits. Within the framework of the contract for the services of exploratory non-vehicle activities, or xEVASNASA is providing Collins and Axiom, along with a number of their industry partners, up to $3.5 billion through 2034. Axiom won the first $228.5 million contract to design the suits to be used during NASA’s Artemis lunar missions, and Collins won the latter 97.2 million dollars contract for the design and development of a new generation of suits for the International Space Station. Since NASA buys its suits from Collins and Axion as a service, the vendors can make additional suits for non-NASA customers as well.
“The beauty of this contract is that the functional requirements for these two suits are very, very close. So at any time we can ask either of these contractors to actually start working on the other, what we call the platform,” says Lara Kearney, NASA manager Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility Program. “We also have what we call a ramp clause in the contract, which means that if another company comes into play and they have the ability to compete, we can actually put them into the contract and allow them to compete on contracts like a well.”
Kearney says continued competition helps incentivize contractors to meet cost and schedule, ultimately helping to keep government costs down. CNBC got a behind-the-scenes look at the new suit that Collins Aerospace is designing in collaboration with partners ILC Dover and Ocean tourism. NASA hopes to use this new suit on the International Space Station by 2026.
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