A NASA Office of the Inspector General report has revealed that the agency’s next-generation spacesuits will be at least a year late and cost more than $1 billion.
NASA last developed spacesuits as part of its Space Shuttle program in 1974. A total of 18 were built with an original design lifetime of 15 years. After almost 50 years, just four suits are still operationally.
With a dire need for a new generation of spacesuits, NASA has embarked on no fewer than three separate extravehicular spacesuit development efforts. The most recent, the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU) was the result of the NASA Transition Authorization Act passed by Congress in 2017 directing the agency to begin the development of an advanced suit to meet the needs of deep space exploration.
In addition to replacing the ageing suits aboard the International Space Station, the xEMU suits were intended to enable astronauts to explore the Moon’s surface as part of NASA’s Artemis Moon missions.
Published on August 10, the NASA Office of the Inspector General report identifies the xEMU as one of several reasons that the agency will be unable to meet the goal of returning to the Moon by 2024, a goal set by President Trump in 2019.
The report identifies a number of factors contributing to the delay, including impacts related to the COVID-19 pandemic and funding shortfalls. As a result, the suits will not be ready until at least April 2025 precluding a 2024 return to the Moon.
In addition to schedule slips, the cost of developing an ISS xEMU demo suit and two flight-ready suits intended to be worn by the astronauts who will return humankind to the Moon will balloon to over $1 billion by 2025. However, when you consider that the current EMU spacesuits cost between 15 million and 22 million each in 1974, spending $1 billion on the initial development of the xEMU suits in 2021 is not without precedent.
The Office of the Inspector General report offers a number of suggestions to reduce costs and delays moving forward. The bulk of the suggestions focus on solidifying technical requirements, adjusting scheduling, and developing an acquisition strategy, something the report identifies as a key challenge facing the development of the xEMU suits.