With the successful conclusion of the Artemis I mission, NASA has taken a major step toward returning humans to the Moon. But a large rocket and capsule capable of reaching deep space are just the beginning of the new technologies needed for lunar surface operations.
It is worth noting that there is a landing craft. Much attention has been paid to this component of the program, especially after NASA selected the large spacecraft from SpaceX to take on the role in April 2021. The spacecraft will rendezvous with the Orion spacecraft in lunar orbit and ferry astronauts to and from the moon. After the Orion rocket and Space Launch System completed a crucial flight test, Starship is now on the clock as NASA works to land a lunar surface later this decade.
But just as astronauts can’t go down to the moon without the spacecraft, they also can’t go out on the moon’s surface without new spacesuits.
In June, NASA announced that it would partner with two industry groups, one led by Axiom Space and the other by Collins Aerospace, to develop spacesuits for both the Moon and spacewalks in low Earth orbit. In September, the space agency said Axiom would develop Artemis Moonwalking suits. NASA said last week that Collins will develop suits for the International Space Station and other applications in space.
These will be NASA’s first new spacesuits in decades, and since they are small spacecraft, the new suits are complex machines. A spacesuit design must include life support equipment, compression garments, avionics, and more in a self-contained unit. Developing a suit suitable for the lunar environment would be particularly difficult because it had not been done in five decades, and the Apollo astronauts had to deal with a lot of powerful dust on the lunar surface.
To get a sense of how this work is progressing, Ars recently spoke with Chris Hansen, deputy director of the Space Suits and Lunar Module Program at NASA.
“We think they’re doing a great job,” Hansen said of Axiom and Collins. “These companies are so excited and excited about these projects, they’ve invested a lot of their own money in the lawsuits.”
Each company has been able to take full advantage of the design and research that NASA put into the internal development of a next-generation spacesuit known as “xEMU.” NASA has invested $420 million in this research and development effort over more than a decade. “They’ve been able to use it heavily in their designs,” Hansen said of the companies and the xEMU prototype.
NASA has set a goal for the Artemis III mission to land two people on the moon by 2025. While that doesn’t seem plausible, it’s more likely that Artemis II will fly a crew around the moon that year, setting up Artemis III later in the decade. Hansen said Axiom is still working toward that goal.
To that end, Hansen said, the company is scheduled to present two flight-ready suits to NASA by the middle or late 2025. While Axiom will be required to demonstrate the suits in a flight-like environment, most likely an airlock on the ground, the first flight test will likely take place. her on the moon.
“Artemis 3 will be a demonstration mission,” Hansen said. “We hold our contractors to their schedules. I’m very confident that they’re going to put up these schedules that we’re talking about.”
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