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NASA Selects Axiom, Collins Aerospace For Space-Suit Contract

Collins Aerospace exhibited one of its astronaut suits in Australia in 2019 / Carla Gottgens. NASA chose Axiom Space Inc. and Collins Aerosp...

Collins Aerospace exhibited one of its astronaut suits in Australia in 2019 / Carla Gottgens.
NASA chose Axiom Space Inc. and Collins Aerospace to provide it with new astronaut suits, as the agency pushes to replace decades-old hardware and spur more commercial activity in space.

Officials from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said Wednesday they selected the two companies to compete to offer the agency space suits for high-profile missions, including for operations outside of the International Space Station and future exploration visits to the moon. The companies are currently developing their suits.

Providing the suits and related services to NASA could be valued at a total $3.5 billion over a dozen years, according to the agency. In theory, one of the two teams could win the right to provide space suits for every mission, agency officials said. Spacewalks are highly choreographed affairs that place astronauts inside suits that function much like small spacecraft. NASA officials said at a briefing Wednesday that the current suits have been used for 169 spacewalks over the years.

An exhibit at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston / Go Nakamura.
Executives from Axiom and Collins said they plan to offer their space suits to other customers outside of NASA. Axiom is a Houston-based company that is organizing private flights to the International Space Station and building its own facility in orbit.

“We have a number of customers that already would like to do a spacewalk,” Axiom Chief Executive Michael Suffredini said. Collins, a unit of Raytheon Technologies Corp., aims to create a suit that, with minor modifications, could be used by other customers, said Dan Burbank, a senior technical fellow at the company. The goal, he said, is to create a suit that feels like rugged, extreme-sport outerwear, and “that doesn’t feel like a spacecraft.”

For NASA, the suits it plans to acquire from either the Axiom or Collins teams would help replace its current lineup of suits and support hardware, which is based on designs that are almost 50 years old, the agency’s inspector general said in a report last year. For more than a decade, NASA has been working on replacement suits, according to that report.

Having two companies to call on for suits gives NASA backup options and should help drive down costs as the Axiom and Collins teams compete, agency officials said. SpaceX, the private space company led by Elon Musk, is separately developing its own space suits intended for use on commercial space flights. 

As soon as the end of this year, private crew members on board a SpaceX flight funded in part by billionaire technology entrepreneur Jared Isaacman plan to conduct what they have described as the first commercial spacewalk using suits produced by Space Exploration Technologies Corp., as SpaceX is formally known.