NASA expands developers' contracts for its next-gen spacesuits

Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace will modify their designs for new purposes.

Axiom Space

In 2022, NASA chose Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace to develop next-gen spacesuits meant to finally replace the decades-old gear astronauts are using to this day. Now, the space agency has expanded their existing contracts and is giving them $5 million apiece to design and develop new spacesuits not included in the original orders they received.

NASA has ordered a spacesuit from Axiom Space meant for use in Low Earth Orbit, specifically for spacewalks outside the International Space Station. The original contract for Axiom was for a spacewalking system that the Artemis III astronauts will wear on the lunar surface when they land on the moon. Axiom unveiled a prototype for its original order in March, showcasing a suit with joints that allow wearers to move around with ease and a helmet equipped with a light and an HD camera.

Meanwhile, Collins Aerospace has received an order for a spacesuit meant for use on the lunar surface. The company was previously contracted to develop a spacewalking suit for use outside the ISS. In other words, each company has received a new order that mirrors the other's previous one. Lara Kearney, manager of the Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility Program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said:

"These task orders position NASA for success should additional capabilities become necessary or advantageous to NASA’s missions as the agency paves the way for deep space exploration and commercialization of low Earth orbit. Using this competitive approach we will enhance redundancy, expand future capabilities, and further invest in the space economy."

Redundancy is an important part of space tech development. In this case, spacesuits meant for the same purpose developed by two different companies could ensure that astronauts will have something to use if the other one fails for any reason. That said, the new task orders are for the companies' initial "design modification work" — they're essentially modifying their original suits for a new purpose — and NASA wants to see them first before committing to their continued development. Axiom told SpaceNews that if NASA decides to push through with the new spacesuits' development, the full order will cost the agency $142 million over four years.