Development of spacesuits for Artemis moonwalks lagging


Kristine Davis, a spacesuit engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, wearing a ground prototype of NASA’s new Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU) during an event in 2019. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

The next-generation spacesuits needed by the first moonwalkers in NASA’s Artemis program will not be available until 2025 at the earliest and will have cost more than $1 billion to develop, the agency’s Office of Inspector General reported Tuesday.

While November 2024 remains NASA’s goal for obtaining two flight-ready spacesuits, known as xEMUs, “the agency faces significant challenges,” the OIG said, including a 20-month delay in development and delivery of test suits, a space station demonstration version and two lunar flight suits.

“These delays — attributable to funding shortfalls, COVID-19 impacts, and technical challenges — have left no schedule margin for delivery of the two flight-ready xEMUs,” the report concluded. “Given the integration requirements, the suits would not be ready for flight until April 2025 at the earliest.

“Moreover, by the time two flight-ready xEMUs are available, NASA will have spent over a billion dollars on the development and assembly of its next-generation spacesuits.”

The inspector general said the spacesuit delays alone mean a lunar landing in 2024, a deadline imposed by the Trump administration, “is not feasible.”

The conclusion comes after earlier reports that identified “significant delays” in other Artemis programs, including development of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion crew capsules needed to launch astronauts to the moon.

“Moreover, delays related to lunar lander development … will also preclude a 2024 landing,” the OIG said.

Under the Artemis program, NASA’s Boeing-managed SLS rocket will boost Lockheed Martin-built Orion capsules to the moon where crews will either rendezvous with a small lunar space station, known as Gateway, or descend directly to the surface in a new lander being built by SpaceX.

NASA has released this infographic illustrating features of the xEMU. Credit: NASA

The first SLS is being assembled, or “stacked,” at the Kennedy Space Center and is expected to blast off on a maiden flight by the end of the year, sending an unpiloted Orion capsule on an automated trip around the moon and back.

The second Artemis flight, tentatively targeted for 2023, will send four astronauts on an around-the-moon shakedown flight before the first landing attempt in the Artemis 3 mission, presumably in the 2025 timeframe or later.

NASA’s current spacesuits, or extravehicular mobility units — EMUs — originally were designed in 1974 for use during the space shuttle program. The suits were modified in the early 1990s for use outside the International Space Station.

The current xEMU spacesuit design effort is intended to replace the current suits with next-generation models that could be used on the space station, on and around the moon and, eventually, on Mars.

The new suits feature improved mobility, flexibility and communications, they will fit a broader population and will allow astronauts to work in vacuum for up to nine hours. The xEMUs feature 92 components being supplied by 27 different vendors.

Since 2007, the OIG reported, NASA has spent just over $420 million on spacesuit development. To finish development, NASA must obtain suits for testing and certification as well as a demonstration model that can be evaluated aboard the International Space Station.

“Going forward, the agency plans to invest approximately $625.2 million more, bringing the total spent on design, testing, qualification, an ISS Demo suit, two flight-ready suits and related support to over $1 billion through
fiscal year (FY) 2025,” the report said.

The OIG made four recommendations to streamline remaining development, reduce technical risks and to keep the project in synch with other elements of the Artemis program as well as the International Space Station.