NASA has announced the contract winners to build and manage the new spacesuits for the Artemis Program. The two companies that won the potential $3.5 billion award are Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace.
This contract came out of major delays inside NASA’s xEMU program. NASA’s Office of Inspector General stated that the agency’s suit would not be ready before the then 2024 deadline. To mitigate this, NASA put out a request for proposal for commercial providers to supply suits and EVA services for both the International Space Station and Artemis missions.
This is how we got to today, where NASA introduced the two winners of the Exploration Extravehicular Activity Services (xEVAS) contract. Axiom and Collins will design, develop, and own suits that NASA will certify for use by its astronauts. The two companies will also be able to use the suits themselves for commercial use, similar to the Commercial Crew Program.
With these awards, NASA and our partners will develop advanced, reliable spacesuits that allow humans to explore the cosmos unlike ever before. By partnering with industry, we are efficiently advancing the necessary technology to keep Americans on a path of successful discovery on the International Space Station and as we set our sights on exploring the lunar surface.Vanessa Wyche, Director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston
This is a services contract, meaning that Axiom and Collins will not just make the Artemis spacesuits for NASA but will be in charge of many other aspects, including maintenance and training. However, the risk assessment of spacewalks will continue to be on the shoulders of NASA mission controllers.
Axiom Space has already been developing a space suit
Both Axiom and Collins have stated that they have third parties interested in using these spacesuits. Axiom Space’s CEO Michael Suffredini said that the company has already been working on a spacesuit capable of performing EVAs for its flights.
Axiom is developing a space station that will first be attached to the ISS but will then detach and operate independently. The company also purchases flights on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft to send private astronauts to the ISS. So it was just a matter of time before Axiom would need a spacesuit for commercial EVAs either at the ISS or on its future space station.
SpaceX was also thought to be looking at winning this bid for developing NASA a spacesuit. However, we will have to wait to see details about how much Axiom and Collins won and who they beat when the source selection statement is released in late June.
Collins Aerospace will bring Apollo and Space Shuttle heritage
Collins Aerospace has worked on both the Space Shuttle and ISS EVA suits, properly named the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU). These suits have served NASA well for almost 40 years but are starting to show their age. Collins also brings ILC Dover to the team to work on the xEVAS contract. ILC Dover contributed to making the suits worn by Apollo astronauts on the Moon.
Both Axiom and Collins plan to have their suits ready by 2025, and the contract will last until 2034. But first, the companies must develop a suit and have it certified by NASA for either use on the ISS or the Artemis III mission, after a required real-world test either on the ground or in space.
According to the contract, NASA can remove or add more companies to the program as the industry evolves. So come 2025, we could have a different provider or more.