"The suit is ready to fly for years to come."
This week, NASA's Johnson Space Center issued a call to create a new space clothing industry. The space agency's current suits date back decades, and new ones are needed for both the International Space Station and Artemis' lunar missions later this decade.
This ad did not attract much attention. , but it is important for two reasons. First of all, with this RFP, NASA may finally solve the problem of finding the next-generation spacesuit, which has plagued the agency for the past 14 years and has cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Additionally, with this new approach to buying space clothing, NASA is making clear its intent for a more commercial purchase. This is basically renting suits from the industry, not making them at home at a much higher cost.
A Brief History of Vanity
In August, NASA Inspector General Paul Martin released a comprehensive review of NASA's efforts to develop an alternative to the Common Additional Mobility Units, or EMUs. It is the space suit and the device that attaches the suit to the spacecraft. EMUs currently in orbit for the Space Shuttle program have been designed for 45 years and are undergoing permanent repairs.
NASA has conducted several different programs over the past 14 years, usually by the NASA Field Center, to develop a new generation of spacesuits. NASA spent a total of $420 million during that period on various spaceflight efforts, but with limited results. After all, a new spacesuit will not be ready to land in 2024. "It takes years to complete," Martin wrote in his August report. NASA officials expect to spend more than $1 billion on design, testing, certification, and development to provide two ready-to-wear suits. Until the beginning of this year, NASA's current plan was to build six "xEMUs" with appropriate contractor and vendor support, and then issue a contract to produce the additional suit. (These were Artemis suits featured at a lavish event at NASA Headquarters in 2019, which at first glance were more luminous than nature.) But that all changed in April, when NASA announced it was looking to purchase spacesuits from private industries.
A More Commercial Approach
Following the April announcement, NASA released its draft bid for proposals in July, a stronger signal that it could no longer afford its spacesuit to submit. He was looking to buy a suit rather than save it. "As we've seen with spacecraft and rockets, I think the direction we're going is a more commercial approach to space clothing," said Patti Stoll, president of space systems at ILC Dover. 'There will be a major solution from the industry.'
And now, at the request of the new industry, NASA has done just that. According to the document, bidders can use NASA's technology developed for xEMU or they can use their own designs. These suits should be able to meet a variety of needs, including a maximum of six lunar space paths on early Artemis Moon missions. It must also be made of materials that return less than 100 grams of moonstone to the "cabin environment" after each spacewalk on the moon. NASA plans to award the contract by next April.
This is a relatively bold case in the industry. Previously, NASA used fixed-rate contracts to purchase freight and crew services to the International Space Station. It also plans to purchase lunar landing services in a similar fashion, and now appears to be extending that commercial approach entirely to space clothing.
The agency seems really interested in this approach. "Investing in commercial NASA spacesuits is another way to develop a new lunar economy with private sector partners," Milroy said. "Similar to our contributions to LEO, this effort creates jobs and contributes to a vibrant economy on the Moon."
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