Meanwhile, a China’s main spacecraft maker is developing a human landing system for lunar missions.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Inspector General Paul K. Martin recently announced that the agency’s goal of returning American astronauts to the moon by 2024 isn’t feasible because of significant delays in developing spacesuits.
Even though NASA will have spent more than a billion dollars on the next-generation spacesuits, Martin concluded that the “suits would not be ready for flight until April 2025 at the earliest” and are “years away from completion.”
The report attributes the delays to funding shortfalls, Covid-19 impacts and technical challenges. Currently, there are 27 different companies supplying various components for the suits.
However, SpaceX’s boss Elon Musk is coming to the rescue. He offered to make the equipment needed.
Elon Musk offered SpaceX’s services to help NASA make its next-generation spacesuits, after a watchdog report on Tuesday said the agency’s current program is behind schedule and will cost more than $1 billion.
“SpaceX could do it if need be,” Musk wrote in a tweet.
Musk’s company has developed and made flight suits for astronauts who launch into orbit in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. The flight suits are primarily designed to protect the astronauts in case of a fire inside of the spacecraft, or if the cabin depressurizes. Building spacesuits would be a more complex and challenging endeavor, given the need to survive outside of a spacecraft in the harsh environment of space.
NASA has been willing to work with commercial providers on big space projects, from delivering astronauts and cargo to the ISS to delivering hardware to the moon. In July, NASA said it would embrace commercial partnerships “to optimize spacesuit technology and inspire pioneering in the space market,” so Musk’s SpaceX offer is within the realm of possibility.
NASA said it would continue to develop xEMU in-house in parallel with any procurement activity. The agency expects to release a formal request for spacesuit and spacewalk support services proposals later this year with the goal of making awards in early 2022.
Part of the problem is that Team Biden has deemed 2024 “too unrealistic.” No matter the date set, it might be worthwhile having SpaceX design a new suit. The equipment has not been updated in years.
NASA has already spent $420 million on space suit development since 2007, before the advent of its Artemis program, and it plans to “invest approximately $625.2 million more” through 2025, the report said. The space suit’s design and purpose have changed repeatedly over the years as NASA’s priorities in space teeter between new administrations. A new Artemis-tailored space suit design, called xEMU, was unveiled in 2019. Current suits worn by astronauts on the International Space Station are restrictive, haven’t been upgraded in decades, and aren’t designed for long walks on the Moon.
Meanwhile, China’s primary spacecraft maker is developing a human landing system for lunar missions.
The brief news report from Xiamen University School of Aeronautics and Astronautics July 1 (Chinese) names individuals leading projects pertinent to China’s human lunar landing plans and notably refers to the landing project as a “national strategy”.
China is already known to be developing and testing new launch vehicles and a new-generation spacecraft capable of sending astronauts to the moon. A lunar landing and ascent system has one of the missing key components of a human lunar landing architecture.
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