Elon Musk offers to help NASA with their delayed next-gen spacesuit program

NASA has been working on a new generation of Extravehicular Mobility Units (EMU), the big white space suits you see on spacewalks, for their Artemis Program. Elon Musk offered his help with xEMU development to make sure it would hit its 2024 deadline.

xEMU’s are $420 million in with at lot more funding needed

NASA’s Office of Inspector General audited the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Units (xEMU) program and concluded that with the current funding and progress, it will not meet Artemis’s 2024 deadline. The suits were expected to be ready by March 2023 but the OIG stated the program is approximately 20-months delayed.

Since 2007 NASA has spent $420 million to fund 3 different new spacesuit programs. The first was a suit design for the Constellation Program which was developed in parallel with the Advanced Space Suit Project. Since 2016 those programs have been consolidated into the xEMU program as the sole space suit development project for NASA. While almost half a million dollars have already been spent on the suit development, another half-million is expected to be allocated to the program through Fiscal Year 2025.

A mockup of NASA’s xEMU suit during a reveal event with Former NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

The OIG reports that “due to funding shortfalls, COVID-19 impacts, and technical challenges” the suits will miss the projected deadline. Before 2019, when the Artemis timeline was accelerated to meet a landing by 2024, NASA planned to build an International Space Station (ISS) demo unit for testing and future use by 2023. Then NASA would build two flight suits for Artemis III in 2028. Now the agency has to choose between having an ISS demo unit to verify its design before the lunar variant or continue using their 45-year old suits and wait till after the lunar suits are built.

Elon Musk offers SpaceX to help with NASA’s delays

In a response to the report, Musk shared on social media that “SpaceX could do it if need be.” This is a bold claim from the space executive as SpaceX has very little experience designing a suit of this nature. While SpaceX did develop their own intravehicular suits for the Commercial Crew Program, the black and white fight suits used inside the Dragon spacecraft. These suits are not designed to be used in spacewalk and lunar excursion activities.

NASA’s Crew-2 pose in their SpaceX flight suits. Credit: SpaceX

While betting against SpaceX’s ability to do anything has been proven foolish for the 2 decades the company has existed. The chance NASA will drop their current in-house xEMU program and just under 30 contractors for SpaceX is slim without support from Congress or NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

SpaceX probably already has a suit in the works

While no confirmation from the company or Musk has made it clear that SpaceX is working on an extravehicular suit. With SpaceX’s goal to make humans multi-planetary, Musks comments on the urgency of this goal, and his response to the OIG report. I would say it is safe to speculate the California-based company is working on a suit at some level already. And knowing them, Elon Musk’s version of the xEMU suit will offer a killer design if NASA takes his help.

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