WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA is preparing to send humans back to the Moon through the Artemis program, not just to walk and explore, but to develop a sustainable presence. The next generation of moonwalkers will need a whole new suite of spacesuits and support systems to enable exploration of the inhospitable environment at the lunar South Pole for the first time.
Just as NASA is embracing new technologies to support moonwalkers, the agency will also embrace a new strategy for procuring the necessary spacesuits, support equipment, and support services. While this approach is new to spacesuit development, NASA is successfully using this strategy today to procure launch services, commercial crew and cargo deliveries to the International Space Station, and delivery of other elements of the Artemis program, including Human Landing System services and Deep Space Logistics.
In a request for information (RFI) published on April 14, 2021, NASA is seeking industry feedback on this updated strategy to procure exploration spacewalk activity services. The updated strategy enhances NASA’s work to bolster commercially provided services by shifting acquisition of the exploration extravehicular activity (xEVA) system to a model in which NASA will purchase spacesuit services from commercial partners rather than building them in-house with traditional government contracts. NASA needs xEVA suits and capabilities to support the International Space Station and lunar surface missions under Artemis, which will bring humans back to the lunar surface for the first time since 1972.
One or more commercial partners, in collaboration with NASA, will design, develop, build, assemble, test, and maintain a fleet of flight and training xEVA equipment. This includes spacesuits and associated hardware to be used during Artemis missions on the lunar surface and at the Gateway lunar-orbiting outpost, as well as on the International Space Station. The commercial partner(s) also will train crewmembers and manage their xEVA system hardware during spacewalks. This approach continues NASA’s focus on International Space Station commercial services and is a logical next step.
“We are always looking at ways to lower costs for the taxpayer and focus our efforts and resources on future technology and our bold missions in deep space,” said Mark Kirasich, Deputy Associate Administrator for Advanced Exploration Systems at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We hope to receive industry input on the feasibility of shifting our exploration spacewalk acquisition activities to a service-based model like our procurement for commercial cargo and crew services. This partnership opportunity will allow NASA and industry to work together as commercial space markets in low-Earth orbit and beyond rapidly mature, allowing government investments to accelerate industry and our Artemis exploration plans, together.”
Building complex human spaceflight systems for the first time is challenging. Over time, new efficiencies are engineered, and as a government agency and global leader in exploration, NASA has a responsibility to taxpayers and future explorers to re-examine its infrastructure as needed to reduce costs and enhance performance. As part of this strategy, the agency is opening the door to maximize competition and to commercialize space, including spacesuits and EVA capabilities.
Building on more than 55 years of lessons learned during American spacewalks, NASA will continue an in-house effort to design and develop the xEVA system, and the exploration spacesuit known as the exploration extravehicular mobility unit, or xEMU, in parallel with this procurement activity. NASA will provide all appropriate data from its design and development work to commercial industry.
These partnerships continue to build a strong commercial space industry and benefit both NASA and the public. With the support of industry and academia, NASA will work with at least one commercial partner to develop new technologies and systems to support a flexible exploration spacewalk system architecture that will enable missions to multiple destinations. The exploration spacesuit will be used in spacewalks in a variety of environments including multiple dust, thermal, and atmospheric conditions, and varying gravity levels. The operational requirements will include walking, driving rovers, collecting samples and conducting other research activities in these varied and demanding environments.
“Our team has developed incredible knowledge about spacewalking and spacesuit activity over the last several decades and extensively studied the unique environments our astronauts will need to operate in,” said Chris Hansen, manager of the Extravehicular Activity Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “We hope to pair that with the ingenuity of the private sector to enable a versatile EVA capability.”
In addition to production of the spacesuits, NASA is requesting industry feedback on the continued design evolution of the suits along with their production and sustaining services. Additionally, NASA seeks industry input for production and sustaining of geology toolkits astronauts will use during lunar spacewalks, crew aids, and vehicle interfaces to suit hardware needed to support missions to the lunar surface, International Space Station, Gateway, and eventually, Mars.
The RFI is available here. Responses are due April 29, 2021.