Jun 7, 2022 - Science

NASA awards spacesuit contracts to two private companies

Artist's illustration of astronauts on the Moon

Artist's illustration of two astronauts on the Moon. Photo: NASA

NASA has inked a deal with two private companies to build spacesuits the space agency can use on the Moon and in orbit.

Why it matters: The suits will be key to the space agency's plans to send people to the Moon with its Artemis program. Passing off their development to private companies will help to further commercialize yet another aspect of human spaceflight.

What's happening: NASA announced last week that Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace have been awarded contracts to create next-generation spacesuits to help replace the agency's aging ones.

  • The total value of the award is $3.5 billion, but NASA declined to break that figure down by company.
  • Both companies are also using their own funds to develop their spacesuits, and Collins and Axiom will own the spacesuits for their own uses and customers other than NASA.
  • The suits will also be designed to fit a wide range of bodies from a 5th percentile woman to a 95th percentile man. (NASA has faced criticism recently for its current suits that are more limited in size.)
  • The spacesuits are expected to be ready for the first crewed Artemis landing on the Moon, currently scheduled for 2025.

Between the lines: This kind of partnership is designed to be mutually beneficial for NASA and the companies it's partnering with.

  • Axiom has long been focused on building a commercial space station, and CEO Michael Suffredini said because of that, the company has a need for a spacesuit.
  • "We have a number of customers that already would like to do a spacewalk, and we had planned to build a suit as part of our program," Suffredini said during a press conference last week.

The intrigue: A report last year called out NASA's own years-long development of new spacesuits as a major limiting factor in sending people back to the Moon's surface by 2024 —which was the expected landing date at the time.

  • In November, the agency switched its target landing to 2025, and now the spacesuits are in the hands of these private companies.
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