NASA Abandons Plans for Next-Gen Spacesuits to Replace Decades-Old Design

By: Sam Watanuki | Published: Jun 28, 2024

NASA is facing an aging spacesuit dilemma. Designed over 40 years ago, these suits are no longer meeting the needs of modern space missions.

With no concrete plans to replace them, NASA’s astronauts face increasing challenges during spacewalks.

Abandoned Contracts Worth $100 Million

On Wednesday, NASA announced it would be abandoning contracts worth over $100 million with Collins Aerospace. The mutual agreement to terminate these contracts came after Collins acknowledged their timeline would not align with the space station’s schedule and NASA’s mission objectives.

A lawyer is pictured at his desk

Source: Freepik

This decision leaves NASA without a clear path forward for new spacesuits.

Current Spacesuit Challenges Highlighted

Recently, a faulty electronics box removal was canceled due to a leak in an EVA suit worn by astronaut Tracy Dyson.

A black and white photo of an astronaut floating in black space.

Source: Brian McGowan/Unsplash

The leak affected the suit’s cooling unit, crucial for maintaining a comfortable temperature during spacewalks. This incident shows the urgent need for new and reliable spacesuits.

Axiom Space: An Alternative?

Houston-based Axiom Space currently has a NASA contract worth nearly $230 million to develop new spacesuits.

An image of several astronauts during a spacewalk above the nation of New Zealand

Source: Wikimedia

However, these suits are designed for lunar missions, not for use on the International Space Station. NASA has not confirmed whether Axiom’s suits could be adapted for the space station, adding to the uncertainty.

SpaceX's Private Endeavor

SpaceX, a key NASA partner, is also developing an EVA suit for the Polaris Dawn mission. This all-private endeavor, funded by billionaire Jared Isaacman, aims to conduct the first spacewalk by a private company and a citizen astronaut.

A photograph of a SpaceX Satellite

Source: Tim Peake / ESA/NASA via Getty Images

SpaceX unveiled their EVA suit designs in May, but it’s unclear if NASA has considered them for the space station.

NASA's Commitment to Space Station Operations

Despite these challenges, NASA plans to continue space station operations through 2030.

The International Space Station seen above Earth in space.

Source: NASA/Wikimedia Commons

However, Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, has only committed to participation through at least 2028. This timeline adds pressure on NASA to find a solution for the aging spacesuits.


The Role of Collins Aerospace

Collins Aerospace has been a longtime NASA partner, contributing significantly to previous space missions.

An astronaut on the moon standing beside an American flag.

Source: NASA/Unsplash

The termination of their contract marks a significant shift in NASA’s approach to spacesuit development.


Importance of EVA Suits in Spacewalks

Extravehicular Activity (EVA) suits are crucial for astronauts during spacewalks. These suits provide life support, mobility, and protection from the harsh environment of space.

A rendering of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule in space.

Source: NASA/SpaceX/Wikimedia Commons

As NASA continues to explore new frontiers, reliable spacesuits are essential for the safety and success of missions.


Future Prospects for Spacesuit Development

With the termination of the Collins contract, NASA is exploring other options for spacesuit development.

An image of several scientists working on data in their office

Source: Wikimedia

The agency has yet to announce concrete plans for a replacement, but the need for new suits is more pressing than ever. Future prospects may include other collaborations with private companies like SpaceX and Axiom Space.


Impact on NASA’s Missions

The lack of new spacesuits could impact NASA’s ability to conduct spacewalks and other critical operations. The agency’s commitment to continuing space station operations through 2030 highlights the importance of finding a timely solution.

An up-close look at the Starliner capsule and its rocket seen on its launchpad in the daytime.

Source: NASA/Joel Kowsky/Wikimedia Commons

Astronauts rely on functional and safe spacesuits to perform their duties effectively.


NASA’s Ongoing Efforts and Challenges

NASA is facing significant challenges in developing next-generation spacesuits. The termination of the Collins contract seems to be a setback, but the agency is determined to find a solution.

An astronaut holding a camera outside training for the moon landing in 1970.

Source: NASA/Wikimedia Commons

NASA’s ongoing efforts to secure reliable and advanced spacesuits will be crucial for the future of space exploration.


A Critical Crossroad for NASA

NASA is at a critical crossroad as it seeks to replace its aging spacesuits. The termination of the Collins contract highlights the complexities and challenges involved.

European Space Agency (EPA) astronaut Alexander Gerst, Expedition 41 flight engineer, uses a camera to make a photo of his helmet visor during a session of extravehicular activity (EVA) outside the International Space Station (ISS) October 7, 2017 in space.

Source: NASA via Getty Images

As the agency explores new partnerships and technologies, the future of space exploration hangs in the balance, depending on the development of reliable next-generation spacesuits.