Op-ed | Private industry spacesuit advancements are the solution to OIG report findings
The recent report by NASA’s Office of Inspector General on the agency’s efforts to develop a viable Extravehicular Activity (EVA) spacesuit to support a lunar landing in 2024 focused on the cost and schedule implications of a government led design and development program. That scope excluded any consideration of the substantial privately led work that has already been accomplished by industry and is ready to support the needs of the Artemis missions.
To design and manufacture a spacesuit — which is at its core a personalized spacecraft — takes an organization with extensive knowledge and experience. ILC Dover has designed and manufactured every EVA spacesuit for NASA from the Apollo moon landing through the suits currently used for spacewalks on the International Space Station. We have the design and manufacturing expertise and infrastructure to design, qualify, and manufacture multiple suits in the time required to support the Artemis missions.
In 2016, ILC Dover delivered a prototype lunar landing suit, which incorporated a variety of updates and innovations learned from the development and manufacturing of the original Apollo lunar exploration suits. Known as the Z-2 suit, it was developed to evaluate the mobility of several new design features. NASA evaluated the Z-2 suit, and subsequently made the decision to use the Z-2 design as the basis of the NASA in-house Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU), intended to be used across multiple programs, including the ISS and Artemis.
After the delivery of Z-2, ILC Dover took the initiative to continue in-house development of the world’s first commercial EVA spacesuits, applying decades of design and manufacturing experience, combined with the anticipated mission profile of the Artemis missions and the need to update the aging EMU design for orbital EVAs. The underlying challenge was to create an EVA spacesuit that is easily re-sizeable, such that any astronaut could wear, while providing the reliable mobility and dexterity needed for every imaginable EVA task involved in moving, assembling, maintaining, repairing, and establishing the infrastructure needed for long term human habitation on the moon.
More than a year ago, ILC Dover announced the introduction of a well-developed, EVA spacesuit with a suitable name — Astro. Astro offers a turnkey solution; it is uniquely designed to keep astronauts safe, mobile, dexterous, and comfortable for hours of extravehicular activities. This advanced spacesuit is engineered for high mobility and ease-of-use, utilizing a lightweight architecture, and modular sizing. It can be used by a wide variety of sized crew members in a wide variety of applications. In addition to easy resizability, Astro incorporates a high visibility helmet system to ensure the astronaut can see, speak, and breath easily in challenging situations, as well as a modular architecture to adapt to a wide variety of missions.
ILC Dover has been working alongside NASA for years to ensure the safety of our brave astronauts. With Astro, we are ready with a commercial EVA spacesuit solution, to carry out the historic Artemis missions and get the EVA spacesuit program back on schedule.
Patty Stoll is ILC Dover’s Space Systems & Engineered Solutions president.