Reading time ( words)
When the first woman and next man step foot on the Moon in 2024, they will be wearing the next generation of spacesuits designed to give astronauts enhanced mobility to accomplish their exploration tasks on the lunar surface. NASA is currently designing and developing a new spacesuit system, called the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit or xEMU, for use during Artemis missions at the Moon and adaptable for other destinations near and far.
In a request for information (RFI) published on Oct.4 2019, NASA is seeking Industry feedback to help refine and mature the acquisition strategy for production and services for lunar spacesuits to enable a steady cadence of Artemis missions over the next decade and beyond. The agency is prepared to build and certify the initial spacesuits to support a demonstration in a spaceflight environment on the International Space Station in 2023 and the first trip to the lunar surface in 2024, as part of the Artemis III mission. After Artemis III, NASA plans to transition responsibility for production, assembly, testing, sustaining and maintenance of a fleet of flight and training spacesuits and associated hardware to U.S. Industry.
Building on lessons learned from 50 years of American spacewalks, NASA, with the support of industry and academia, has designed and developed new technologies and systems to support a flexible exploration spacesuit architecture that will enable missions to multiple destinations. The new exploration suit can be used in spacewalks that may vary with dust, thermal conditions, operational requirements such as walking, driving rovers, or collecting samples, or gravity. The multi-destination design also means the suits could be used for spacewalks on the space station, or at Gateway if needed, and future missions to Mars can build on the core suit technologies with additional upgrades for use in the Martian atmosphere and greater gravity.
Several new design features on the new exploration suit will accommodate a broader range of crew sizes and improve fit, comfort, and astronaut mobility for tasks on the lunar surface. Improvements include a highly mobile lower torso for walking and kneeling as well as an upgradable life support system that allows components to be swapped out as technologies mature or mission parameters change without having to redesign the entire suit. Additionally, the life support system incorporates many new technological innovations to improve overall reliability, safety and performance.
“You won’t see the bunny hopping and falls like those seen in the Apollo videos, because we’ve added bearings and new soft elements to help the suit move smoothly with the wearer,” said Marshall Smith, director of the Human Lunar Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “With the improvements to the suits for Artemis missions, astronauts can now open up new possibilities for science and exploration at the Moon.”
In addition to production of the spacesuits, NASA would like industry feedback on how the contractor would facilitate the evolution of the suits and recommend improvements to the agency’s initial design. The agency is also asking for information on production and sustaining of toolkits astronauts will use during lunar spacewalks, crew-aids and vehicle integration hardware needed to support unique operations and interfaces associated with missions to Gateway and the lunar surface.
“With the help of partners from industry and academia, we have developed a suite of advanced spacesuit components in preparation for missions to distant destinations,” said Smith. “Now we will take the next step together in the boots of the new exploration suit for Artemis missions at the Moon.”
NASA is also interested in industry input on lowering barriers to commercialization of the exploration suits and associated tools, interfaces, and other components. This includes inputs on how future spacesuit production teams might be able to provide suit and spacewalk capabilities to non-NASA customers.