NASA is going to spend $3.5 billion through 2034, making moves to upgrade its spacesuits.
The agency awarded task orders to Collins Aerospace and Axiom Space last year, buying services that provide astronauts with next-generation spacesuit and spacewalk systems to work outside the International Space Station, explore the lunar surface on Artemis missions and prepare for crewed missions to Mars.
The companies were chosen from the Exploration Extravehicular Activity Services (xEVAS) contract solicitation. While the partners will own the new spacesuits, the contract provides NASA with the ability to add on vendors that were not previously selected. Selected vendors can compete for task orders for missions "that will provide a full suite of capabilities for NASA’s spacewalking needs" during the period of performance through 2034, with a combined maximum potential value of $3.5 billion for all task order awards.
The spacesuits will be designed and produced using technical and safety standards provided by NASA.
The task order for Collins Aerospace is worth $97.2 million, and Axiom Space's has a base value of $228.5 million.
Collins Aerospace will complete a critical design review and demonstrate use of the suit in a simulated space environment by Jan. 2024. NASA will have the option to extend the contract for a demonstration outside the space station by April 2026.
Axiom Space was selected to deliver a moonwalking system for the Artemis III mission.
Both vendors will continue to compete for future task orders.
With these awards, NASA said it is another step closer to replacing the current design that has been used by its astronauts for decades during space shuttle and space station missions.
The new suit will support continued station maintenance and operations.
"We look forward to obtaining another much-needed service under our contract," Lara Kearney, manager of the Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility Program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, said in a statement. "By working with industry, NASA is able to continue its over 22-year legacy of maintaining a presence in low-Earth orbit."
Notably, a 2021 report from NASA's Office of Inspector General found that, since 2007, NASA has spent about $420.1 million on spacesuit development and that the agency plans to invest around $625.2 million more.
It also highlighted timeline challenges, predicting delays for the suits and the moon landing.
Kearney told CNBC this week that the agency was starting to see some degradation in performance, with components that needed to be replaced. New suits would be designed so that previous water-related failures could not occur.
NASA has also had issues with finding proper sizes to fits its astronaut corps. In 2019, what would have been the first all-female spacewalk was adjusted due to spacesuit availability on the space station.