• Moon

AxEMU, A Spacesuit for Walking on the Moon

Published on 15 March 2023

On March 15, NASA and Axiom Space presented the AxEMU spacesuit which will be used for Moonwalks on the Artemis III mission, scheduled for 2025.

AxEMU, A Spacesuit for Walking on the Moon

As part of its Artemis program to return to and land on the Moon, NASA has decided to entrust certain key elements to the private sector in the form of service contracts to be carried out. Thus, SpaceX won the contract for the future lunar module. The spacesuits that astronauts will wear on our natural satellite will be manufactured by Axiom Space.

 AxEMU Presented in Houston 

Two private companies have won contracts to supply NASA’s future spacesuits: Collins Aerospace and Axiom Space. The latter, based in Houston, is in charge of those to be worn on the Artemis III mission which is to complete the first crewed mission on our natural satellite since the Apollo program more than half a century ago.
During an event held at Space Center Houston (a museum open to the public and adjacent to NASA’s famous Johnson Center), Axiom Space revealed the AxEMU spacesuit (see the video opposite).

This spacesuit uses the xEMU (Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit) concept developed over several years by the American agency. The acronym AxEMU also refers to this lineage by adding the letter A for Axiom Space. Mike Suffredini, CEO of Axiom Space (and former International Space Station program manager for NASA) underscored this technical heritage by saying that his company’s spacesuit was 50% reliant on the xEMU prototype.

The AxEMU spacesuit from Axiom Space. The black color of this prototype will not be that of the final suit. It is indeed a white coating that will be applied.
© Axiom Space

Space Suits In Service

AxEMU is based on a rigid torso, a solution already applied to current American spacesuits, but adds numerous innovations, particularly in order to give more freedom of movement to the astronauts who will wear it. The boots presented a particular insulation challenge, as they are expected to walk in dark areas where the ground will be very cold. The black colour will not be retained for the exterior covering. For reasons of thermal management (the need to repel the heat of the Sun), they will return to the classic white colour already seen on previous American space suits. Above all, AxEMU is no longer based on the idea of a spacesuit split in two at waist level that is put on in two main stages, first the “pants,” then the upper part. The solution adopted is reminiscent of that of the Russian Orlan spacesuits, namely a dorsal entry by opening the “backpack,” which allows the astronaut to enter from the back before closing the whole thing to ensure the seal.
A true miniature spaceship in the shape of a human figure, such equipment represents a huge technological challenge, but also a logistical challenge to maintain it.

In order to control the resulting budgets, NASA decided to use a service provision rationale. In other words , AxEMUs will not be the property of the American agency as the previous spacesuits were. They will be owned by Axiom Space which, under contract, will provide them to NASA, ensuring their maintenance and proper operation. Under the signed agreements, the private company based in Houston will therefore be in charge of the spacesuits planned for Artemis III and subsequently for the mission which will mark, according to the official formula, “the first woman and the next man on the Moon” (the Biden administration has added the fact that there will have to be a minority ethnicity person in this crew). 

The other company selected, Collins Aerospace, is primarily responsible for the next spacesuits assigned to extravehicular outings from the International Space Station (replacing the current EMUs). However, NASA’s commercial rationale means that Collins Aerospace and Axiom Space will be in competition to offer their services for future lunar missions after Artemis III. Notably, during the March 15 event, NASA Deputy Administrator Bob Cabana reported that Artemis III should take place in 2025.
However, we know that the Artemis II flight around the Moon (therefore not a landing) will not take place before November 2024. In addition, the SpaceX Starship which is to serve as a lunar module in a special version has still not completed an orbital flight (the decision on this test is envisaged in the weeks or months to come). 2025 could be a tough goal to achieve.
On the other hand, the date of the next big announcement related to NASA’s Artemis program is known: Monday, April 3, the crew of Artemis II, mentioned above, will in fact be officially presented on that day. It will include three NASA astronauts and one from the Canadian Space Agency.
Finally, remember that, initiated by NASA, Artemis brings together the European (ESA), Japanese (JAXA) and Canadian (CSA) space agencies.

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