NASA picks a tailor for Artemis moonwalking suits
After the events of the weekend, there's no need to rush
Ever the optimist, NASA has handed Axiom Space a $228.5 million deal to develop a moonwalking system in the first award under a competitive spacesuits contract.
That is, if the Artemis mission ever gets there. What was supposed to have been the first uncrewed launch of the SLS rocket was scrubbed twice recently due to a leak in a hydrogen fueling mechanism. The next attempt will be in late September or early October.
Artemis II, which aims to eventually take humanity beyond the Moon, is tentatively scheduled for "no earlier than 2024," while Artemis III, which plans to land a woman and person of color on the lunar surface, is penciled in for 2025.
Still, considering all that can go catastrophically wrong with space flight, there's no harm in starting now. Axiom Space was up against Collins Aerospace for the contract, and is now tasked with developing "a next generation Artemis spacesuit and supporting systems, and to demonstrate their use on the lunar surface during Artemis III."
"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."
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Having landed people on the Moon no less than six times between 1969 and 1972, NASA said it has "defined the technical and safety requirements for the next generation of spacesuits" over 50-plus years.
"Axiom Space will be responsible for the design, development, qualification, certification, and production of its spacesuits and support equipment that will meet these key agency requirements for Artemis III," the agency added, while NASA will "maintain the authority for astronaut training, mission planning, and approval of the service systems."
Axiom is required to test the suits in a spacelike environment ahead of the Artemis III mission, which sounds like a pretty good idea.
While Axiom has snapped up this portion of the Exploration Extravehicular Activity Services contract, other "industry partners" will be able to compete for future task orders covering NASA's needs through to 2034.
The agency said it was "currently evaluating task order options for space station spacesuits" for use in low-Earth orbit.
Looking at how the Artemis program is going, though, Axiom has no need to rush. ®