NASA faces new criticism, possible congressional hearing over spacesuit delays

United Press International

NASA is facing new criticism over a recent agency watchdog report that disclosed spacesuit development is so far behind schedule that a return to the moon would be delayed beyond a 2024 target.

Coupled with the high cost, estimated to hit $1 billion eventually, the development issues are serious enough to prompt a congressional hearing, U.S. Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., told UPI.

“I almost certainly think we have to schedule a hearing before the end of the year,” said Beyer, who chairs the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee.

“We already spent $420 million, and we don’t know where we’re going. We need to really make sure [Congress] is providing the oversight and the accountability necessary.”

The report from the NASA Office of Inspector General, released Aug. 10, said delays due to the coronavirus pandemic, technical issues and lack of congressional funding would make an astronaut moon landing by 2024 impossible.

“I was pretty disappointed in what the inspector general discovered,” Beyer said. “I don’t know where blame lies, but clearly we have a lot of ground to make up.”

He said the pandemic and funding shortfalls explain only part of the problem.

“It seems like the biggest challenge has been not understanding the nature of the engineering task ahead and, therefore, sometimes chasing down blind alleys,” Beyer said.

U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, R-Fla., also expressed concern over the spacesuit report, and said a congressional hearing would provide a forum for NASA to further explain the problems.

“This raises important issues about how challenging these deep space exploration missions will be,” Posey, also a member of the subcommittee, said in an emailed statement. “NASA needs to provide their leadership to create astronaut gear that is cost effective, safe and mission specific.”

NASA showed a prototype of a new lunar spacesuit in 2019 during a press conference in Washington, D.C., which featured a female spacesuit designer wearing it. At the time, the agency said the design represented what astronauts would wear on upcoming Artemis lunar missions.

But NASA canceled that spacesuit program this year because it didn’t meet the needs of expanding goals for missions to the moon and Mars, and issued a new request for information from potential spacesuit contractors July 27. Such requests are characterized as a hunt for possible solutions.

The Inspector General’s office said in its report that the new request broadened the scope of spacesuit design so much that contractors could respond with suits that would only be usable at the International Space Station and not on the moon, or vice versa, which “may not prove cost effective.”

In response, NASA agreed to revise a preliminary request for proposals to ensure the design could be used on diverse missions.

A Delaware-based company, ILC Dover, a contractor on every spacesuit since the Apollo era one-half century ago, delivered the prototype that NASA showcased at the 2019 press conference, said Dan Klopp, director of business development for the company’s space systems division.

After that, NASA decided to work on the prototype internally, “against our advice,” until this spring, Klopp said.

“NASA engineers … ran into many issues, not the least of which is lack of spacesuit engineering expertise,” he said.

Although NASA managed to get a woman into the suit for the press conference, that prototype wasn’t designed to fit as many body types as NASA truly needs today, said Patty Stoll, president of space systems and engineered solutions at ILC Dover.

“Since then, ILC Dover has created a new suit, which we call Astro, that can fit up to 95% of male and female body shapes and sizes, so we are confident that’s something NASA wants,” Stoll said.

The company’s new Astro suit could be altered by astronauts in space, eliminating a costly delay NASA sometimes encounters when it must send new space suits into orbit to accommodate unique astronaut body shapes and sizes, she said.

The new design is made more complex due to NASA’s current plan to stay at the International Space Station through 2030, go to the moon by 2024 and possibly send astronauts to Mars in the 2030s, she said.

“With the spacesuit at the space station, you don’t have a lot of mobility in the lower torso area, because it’s not needed as much for spacewalks,” Stoll said. “But if you’re walking on the moon, or Mars, you’re going to be bouncing around a bit and performing tasks where you’ll want to bend down.”

ILC Dover is one of dozens of contractors who have expressed interest in the new spacesuit development program. Others are SpaceX, Blue Origin, Collins Aerospace, Honeywell Aerospace, Raytheon and Sierra Space, according to federal contracting records.

Lack of congressional funding for faster development of new spacesuits during the space shuttle era probably caused the delays, said Pablo de Leon, chair of space studies at University of North Dakota.

“These spacesuits have seen very little improvement since the 1970s,” he said. “They were supposed to be updated in the 1990s, but that never happened at the time, and now we have been dragging this problem along for 30 years.”

One cause for hope going forward is that 3D printing may speed the ability to manufacture spacesuits, de Leon said.

Another major challenge has been to reduce the mass or weight of new spacesuits for the moon or Mars, both of which have gravity, said Brad Holschuh, assistant professor and co-director of the Wearable Technology Lab at University of Minnesota.

“The suit is both a life support system and a mobility system, but often those requirements conflict with each other. For example, the suit must be pressurized with oxygen … but that stiffens the suit materials, which impedes mobility,” Holschuh said.

NASA’s spending on spacesuit development over the past 14 years has been crucial to the industry’s innovations, many of which will be incorporated into the new suits, NASA public affairs officer Sandra Jones said in an email.

“Astronaut safety is a priority, and the agency is balancing technical and scheduling risks to ensure the successful development of the next-generation spacesuit and implementation of Artemis within the current budgetary restraints,” Jones wrote.

NASA plans to publish the new, final request for proposals on spacesuits sometime this fall.

Source: United Press International

News Related


China prepares to launch Tianzhou-3 cargo spacecraft

The combination of the Tianzhou-3 cargo spacecraft and a Long March-7 Y4 carrier rocket has been transferred to the launching area of the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site, the China Manned ... Read more »

Have we detected dark energy

Dark energy, the mysterious force that causes the universe to accelerate, may have been responsible for unexpected results from the XENON1T experiment, deep below Italy’s Apennine Mountains. A new study, ... Read more »

Russian actress says 'too late' to fear ISS launch

Russian actress Yulia Peresild said Thursday it was “too late” for fear ahead of her launch into space, as Moscow races against Hollywood to film the first movie in orbit. ... Read more »

SpaceX's Inspiration4 civilian crew hopes mission will inspire world

When the first all-private orbital space mission is launched this week, it will be powered by philanthropist and ambitious businessman Jared Isaacman’s vision of making the world a better place. ... Read more »

Australia nuclear sub deal will help peace in Indo-Pacific: UK PM

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday sought to play down Chinese fears that a deal to provide Australia with nuclear-powered US submarines threatened regional stability. Johnson told parliament the ... Read more »

Two Flight Engineers' stay extended in ISS

Two International Space Station crew members have had their stay onboard the orbiting lab extended to nearly a year. Meanwhile, space biology and life support maintenance kept the Expedition 65 ... Read more »

NASA provides laser for LISA mission

Finding the biggest collisions in the universe takes time, patience, and super steady lasers. In May, NASA specialists working with industry partners delivered the first prototype laser for the European ... Read more »

Dino-killing asteroid set the stage for evolution of modern snakes

For the majority of species living during the Cretaceous period, the asteroid responsible for Mexico’s Chicxulub crater spelled doom. But for those that survived, the catastrophe offered opportunity. According to ... Read more »

India to revise FDI policy for space sector, says ISRO chief Sivan

India will soon come out with a new foreign direct investment (FDI) policy for the space sector, Indian Space research Organisation Chairman K. Sivan said on Monday. In his address ... Read more »

SpaceX Inspiration4 lifts off on first all-civilian orbital mission

The SpaceX mission Inspiration4 — the first all-private orbital spaceflight — lifted off from Florida on Wednesday night, carrying four civilians led by philanthropist and pilot Jared Isaacman. The Falcon ... Read more »

Russian Soyuz rocket launches 34 new UK satellites

A Russian Soyuz rocket has blasted into space carrying 34 new satellites from British operator Oneweb, which aims to provide broadband internet everywhere in the world. The rocket, operated by ... Read more »

SpaceX sends all-civilian crew into orbit

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying four space tourists blasted off Wednesday night from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the first mission to orbit the globe with an ... Read more »

Xplore and Keck Observatory announce innovative collaboration

Xplore Inc., a commercial space company providing Space as a Service has announced a collaboration with the W. M. Keck Observatory in Waimea, Hawai’i. The Keck Observatory, the world’s leading ... Read more »

Space Babes

Houston, we have a problem! Love and sex need to happen in space if we hope to travel long distances and become an interplanetary species, but space organizations are not ... Read more »

Two astronauts return to ISS after 7-Hour Spacewalk

Two international astronauts, Japan’s Akihiko Hoshide and France’s Thomas Pesquet have returned safely to the International Space Station (ISS) after completing a spacewalk that spanned nearly seven hours, NASA said. ... Read more »

Better weather forecasting through satellite isotope data assimilation

As the global climate continues to change and extreme weather events increasingly threaten regions all over the world, accurate weather forecasting is becoming more important than ever. In a new ... Read more »

Quasars as Cosmic Standard Candles

In 1929, Edwin Hubble published observations that galaxies’ distances and velocities are correlated, with the distances determined using their Cepheid stars. Harvard astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt had discovered that a ... Read more »

Adaptable optical communications to facilitate future low-earth orbit networks

As government and commercial small-satellite constellations continue to proliferate in low-earth orbit (LEO), DARPA has unveiled a new effort to create a novel optical communications terminal to interconnect diverse constellations ... Read more »

New ocean temperature data help scientists make their hot predictions

We’ve heard that rising temperatures will lead to rising sea levels, but what many may not realise is that most of the increase in energy in the climate system is ... Read more »

A gem of a lab will bring the world of quantum physics into the light

The novel design for a next-generation diamond sensor with capabilities that range from producing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of single molecules to detecting slight anomalies in the Earth’s magnetic field ... Read more »

Modern snakes evolved from a few survivors of dino-killing asteroid

A new study suggests that all living snakes evolved from a handful of species that survived the giant asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs and most other living things ... Read more »

Scientists explore method to produce composites with 'shape memory'

Skoltech researchers have investigated a promising type of composite materials in terms of their shape memory behavior: how they resume their original shape following deformation if exposed to the right ... Read more »

Jet stream changes could amplify weather extremes by 2060s

New research provides insights into how the position and intensity of the North Atlantic jet stream has changed during the past 1,250 years. The findings suggest that the position of ... Read more »

TROPICS pathfinder satellite produces global first light images and captures Hurricane Ida

On August 8, NASA’s TROPICS Pathfinder satellite captured global first light images as well as a look inside the structure of Hurricane Ida before and after it made landfall. The ... Read more »

New research takes us closer to figuring out supermassive black holes

Galaxies host supermassive black holes, which weigh millions to billions times more than our Sun. When galaxies collide, pairs of supermassive black holes at their centres also lie on the ... Read more »

Rerun of supernova blast expected to appear in 2037

It’s challenging to make predictions, especially in astronomy. There are however, a few forecasts astronomers can depend on, such as the timing of upcoming lunar and solar eclipses and the ... Read more »

SpaceX launches Starlink satellites into orbit from West Coast

Elon Musk’s SpaceX successfully launched a stack of Starlink satellites into space Monday night, the first such launch since May. The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off through a cloud of ... Read more »

Ballistic air guns and mock moon rocks aid in search for durable space fabrics

The surface of the Moon is a harsh environment with no air, low gravity, dust, and micrometeorites-tiny rocks or metal particles-flying faster than 22,000 mph. These conditions can pose a ... Read more »

CuPID CubeSat will get new perspective on Sun-Earth boundary

When you help build a satellite the size of a shoebox, you learn pretty much everything about it, says Emil Atz, a PhD candidate in Mechanical Engineering at Boston University. ... Read more »

TPY-4 Radar earns official US Government Designation

As the world’s most capable and flexible ground based multi-function long-range radar, Lockheed Martin’s TPY-4 has received its official U.S. Government nomenclature – AN/TPY-4(V)1 – officially marking the radar’s maturity ... Read more »

China launches Zhongxing-9B satellite

China successfully launched a new direct broadcast satellite (DBS) from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China’s Sichuan Province Thursday. The satellite, Zhongxing-9B, was launched at 7:50 p.m. (Beijing ... Read more »

DLR agrees cooperation with Spanish start-up Pangea Aerospace

The German Federal Government is turning to efficient start-ups in its quest to ensure independent and competitive access to space for Europe. With their ideas and vision, they can accelerate ... Read more »

Winds delay South Australian launch attempt

UPDATE: Friday’s launch attempt was delayed due to strong upper winds. The Australian Government has given regulatory approval for a commercial rocket launch to take place from a newly licensed ... Read more »

SpaceX to raise bar for space tourism with Inspiration4 launch

SpaceX plans to reach new heights, literally, for space tourism Wednesday by launching the Inspiration4 mission from Florida — the first all-private spaceflight to orbit the Earth. Two men and ... Read more »

Next generation of Orion spacecraft in production for future Artemis missions

Over the next decade, NASA’s Orion spacecraft will carry astronauts during Artemis missions to the Moon to help prepare for human missions to Mars. Work on the spacecraft for Artemis ... Read more »

Orbit MPT30-Ku 12" Airborne SATCOM Terminal receives Intelsat FlexAir for government qualification

Orbit Communication Systems Ltd. reports that the Orbit MPT-30-Ku multi-purpose terminal (MPT) has received full qualification for use with the Intelsat FlexAir for Government service offering. FlexAir is a global ... Read more »

The beach is back: French Riviera marsh ditches seawalls for sand

To save one of the last wetlands on the French Riviera from rising sea levels, conservationists have taken the unusual step of removing its protective seawalls. Instead, they have let ... Read more »

Hughes and OneWeb announce agreements for low earth Orbit satellite service in US and India

Hughes Network Systems, LLC (HUGHES), an innovator in satellite and multi-transport technologies and networks for 50 years, and OneWeb, the low Earth orbit satellite communications company, has announced that they ... Read more »

Groundbreaking technique yields important new details on possible 'fifth force'

A group of researchers have used a groundbreaking new technique to reveal previously unrecognized properties of technologically crucial silicon crystals and uncovered new information about an important subatomic particle and ... Read more »

Dates set for Space Station change of command as Franco-German relations awarded Media prize

The dates have been set for ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet’s upcoming command of the International Space Station, as ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer prepares to join him on board. Thomas, who ... Read more »