Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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RTX Corp subsidiary Collins Aerospace is in discussions with NASA to withdraw from its contract to develop new spacesuits for astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS). This move represents a significant setback for NASA, which has been grappling with issues related to its decades-old spacewalking suits. The information comes from two individuals familiar with the discussions.

The contract in question was part of a $3.5 billion award from NASA in 2022, which was divided between Collins Aerospace and Axiom Space. The goal was to create new spacesuits for use on the ISS and future lunar missions. Under this program, Collins Aerospace received an initial $97 million to develop suits for the ISS and had the potential to compete for additional funds for lunar spacesuit development.

However, Collins Aerospace has faced difficulties with the program, leading to delays in development. As a result, the company has been negotiating with NASA to wind down its involvement in the project. A Collins spokeswoman confirmed that, after thorough evaluation, both Collins Aerospace and NASA mutually agreed to de-scope the Exploration Extravehicular Activity Services (xEVAS) task orders related to the spacesuit contract.

NASA has yet to respond to requests for comment on this matter.

The challenges with the new spacesuit development add to NASA’s long-standing difficulties in modernizing its spacesuits. These suits are essentially human-shaped spacecraft that allow astronauts to conduct extravehicular activities (EVAs) for repairs and maintenance outside the ISS, which orbits about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth. The current spacesuits, which are approximately 40 years old, have seen only minor redesigns and refurbishments over the decades.

Recently, NASA faced a series of spacewalk cancellations due to issues with its existing suits. On June 13, a planned spacewalk was called off due to a “spacesuit discomfort issue” just before it was set to begin. A second attempt on Monday was also canceled minutes into the mission because of a water leak in astronaut Tracy Dyson’s suit. Dyson reported to mission control, “There’s water everywhere … I got an arctic blast all over my visor.”

These recent incidents highlight the ongoing problems with the aging suits, which NASA’s inspector general and the independent Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel have long urged the agency to upgrade.

With Collins Aerospace potentially stepping back from the new spacesuit program, it appears that Axiom Space may take on a larger role in developing NASA’s future spacesuits. Axiom Space, a startup that manages astronaut flights and is building its own space station, has not yet responded to requests for comment.

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