Space suits for a moon landing are incredibly expensive. And available in 2025 at the earliest. This emerges from an investigation report by the NASA audit office. NASA has been working on the next generation of spacesuits for 14 years, which has cost $ 420 million so far. That mountain of money will grow to at least one billion dollars by the time the first two new, ready-to-use spacesuits are available.
The moon landing in 2024 will not fail because of the lack of space suits alone. In March 2019, US President Donald Trump issued the order to bring Americans to the moon by 2024 at the latest – that is, still in Trump’s hoped-for second term in office. In September 2020, the then NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine made it clear at a hearing in the US Senate that this would only be possible if 3.2 billion US dollars were to flow into the development of three lunar lander that same year. Because parliament approved less than a third, Trump had to bury his dream of a US moon landing in 2024.
Timetable unrealistic in several ways
Trump’s successor in office Joe Biden expressly supports the Artemis program with the aim of a manned moon landing. However, Biden knows that Trump’s schedule is unrealistic.
NASA sums it up as follows: “NASA’s inability to develop the (new spacesuits) ready for a moon landing in 2024 is by no means the only factor affecting the feasibility of the agency’s current schedule for a return to the moon For example, our previous audits have shown significant delays in other major projects essential to a moon landing, including the Space Launch System rocket and the Orion capsule, as well as delays in the development of the lunar module and the recent decision on the lunar module Appeal against the award of a landing 2024. ” At the end of July, Blue Origins’ complaint against the award of the contract for the lunar module to SpaceX was rejected.
The procurement of spacesuits appears chaotic in the light of the Court of Auditors’ report. For space walks outside the International Space Station (ISS), astronauts currently use spacesuits based on 45-year-old models from the space shuttle program. You have no future. A new generation called Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Units (xEMU) is to be used both on the ISS and as part of the Artemis mission at the lunar gateway and on the moon itself.
Too little time back and forth
The official NASA timetable says the first two new spacesuits will be ready in November 2024. However, the scope of 20 months contained therein was used up by the coronavirus pandemic, lack of budget and technical difficulties. Now, according to the test report, there is no longer any room for maneuver.
After the ready-to-use spacesuits have been delivered, they must first be integrated into the spacecraft, which will take at least six months. This results in the earliest possible start to the moon in April 2025.
Litton RX-2 Pressuire Suit – Mute recording of a demonstration of the never used prototype from 1964, recorded by KPRC-TV (via texasarchive.org)
However, the staff must first learn how to use the spacesuits. The training suits required for this will not be ready in time to put an airworthy suit on an astronaut in 2024. In addition, the requirements for the various application scenarios could change over the next three years. This increases the risk that the spacesuits have to be changed, which in turn takes time and money.
Back and forth when shopping
Finally, the Court of Auditors criticizes NASA’s procurement strategy. In October 2019, NASA asked potential suppliers for their suggestions (RFI). At that time, the space agency wanted to award several contracts for various development and maintenance tasks as well as a general contractor for the integration of the various parts. Four months ago, however, NASA replaced its RFI with a new RFI: Now it would rather purchase the spacesuits as a service than as a thing.
The new RFI is formulated in such a way that suppliers can choose whether to develop their own concepts from scratch or to build on the developments that have cost 420 million dollars to date. In addition, NASA no longer requires that the suits be suitable for both the Artemis lunar program and the ISS. This could lead to two completely different spacesuit models – which the Court of Auditors considers to be inefficient in view of the limited life expectancy of the ISS.