NASA’s return to the lunar surface has been a significant obstacle. The Inspector-General of Space has released a report stating that the current development of the next generation of spacesuits will hamper the landing of a moon in 2024, which is scheduled for the first 52 years. The new suites will not be ready for flight until April 2025 as soon as possible. The spacesuits currently in use are known as the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) and were designed for the space shuttle program 45 years ago.
NASA and its international partners rely on these for additional work on the International Space Station (ISS) (although rebuilt and partially redesigned). Work on a new spacesuit began 14 years ago, but the Inspector General’s Office reports that what has been built so far will not be ready in time for the Artemis program, NASA’s ambitious plan to bring humans back to the moon’s surface in 2024. The suits were released in 2019 but still, there were still many obstacles for them to get ready on time.
The upgraded spacesuit is known as the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (Xemu) and is designed for multiple missions: for low-Earth orbit with ISS, in the lunar orbit at the upcoming Lunar Gateway space station, on the moon and even one day on Mars. For this reason, suites need to be versatile enough for these different environments.
The report shows that there is a 20-month delay in the development of the case. This is partly due to the Kovid-1 pandemic epidemic, but also due to lack of funding and technical challenges. The development of the new suite is expected to cost around $620 million, and two-thirds of that has already been spent. “Given this expected delay in spacesuit development, a lunar landing by the end of 2024 is not currently planned by NASA,” the report summarizes.
Delays in the case are a big issue but the Inspector General’s Office noted that there are also several delays in other important parts of the mission. The delays include Space Launch System Rocket, Orion Capsules and the recent Moon Lander deal bid Elon Musk won SpaceX and competed by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.
The report suggests adjusting the schedule, consolidating the technical requirements of the case, and developing an acquisition strategy to meet the needs of both orbital activity and lunar exploration. The newly developed suit will have to be extensively tested both on Earth and in space before it can actually be deployed on a lunar mission.
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