SpaceRef

SpaceRef


NASA OIG: NASA's Development of Next-Generation Spacesuits

Status Report From: NASA Office of Inspector General
Posted: Tuesday, August 10, 2021

image

Full report

WHY WE PERFORMED THIS AUDIT

The development of new spacesuits is a critical component of achieving NASA's goals of returning humans to the Moon, continuing safe operations on the International Space Station (ISS), and exploring Mars and other deep space locations.

For extravehicular activities such as spacewalks or exploring the lunar surface, astronauts require Extravehicular Mobility Units (EMU), which includes the spacesuit itself and the hardware that physically connects the EMU to the ISS and other space systems. Currently, astronauts use EMUs designed 45 years ago for the Space Shuttle Program and rely on these refurbished and partially redesigned spacesuits for extravehicular activities on the ISS. For the past 14 years, NASA has been developing next-generation spacesuit technology, which 5 years ago led to the creation of the project known as the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Units (xEMU) that will be used to support astronaut involvement in multiple programs. Specifically, the xEMU will be used on the ISS and Artemis missions involving both the Gateway and Human Landing System (HLS). We reported in 2017 that despite spending nearly $200 million on extravehicular spacesuit development over the previous 9-year period, the Agency remained years away from having a flight-ready spacesuit to use on exploration missions. Since our 2017 report, NASA has spent an additional $220 million—for a total of $420 million—on spacesuit development.

This audit examined NASA's development of next-generation spacesuits for ISS and Artemis missions. Specifically, we examined the extent to which NASA is addressing challenges related to cost, schedule, and performance of the next-generation spacesuit system. To accomplish our objective, we performed work at Johnson Space Center and Marshall Space Flight Center. We reviewed and analyzed NASA's financial accounting system; planning, programming, budgeting, and execution information; and relevant laws and regulations. We also interviewed NASA project officials and reviewed stakeholder requirements documents and key NASA policies and procedures governing risk management.

WHAT WE FOUND

NASA's current schedule is to produce the first two flight-ready xEMUs by November 2024, but the Agency faces significant challenges in meeting this goal. This schedule includes approximately a 20-month delay in delivery for the planned design, verification, and testing suit, two qualification suits, an ISS Demo suit, and two lunar flight suits. These delays—attributable to funding shortfalls, COVID-19 impacts, and technical challenges—have left no schedule margin for delivery of the two flight-ready xEMUs. Given the integration requirements, the suits would not be ready for flight until April 2025 at the earliest. Moreover, by the time two flight-ready xEMUs are available, NASA will have spent over a billion dollars on the development and assembly of its next-generation spacesuits.

Given these anticipated delays in spacesuit development, a lunar landing in late 2024 as NASA currently plans is not feasible. That said, NASA's inability to complete development of xEMUs for a 2024 Moon landing is by no means the only factor impacting the viability of the Agency's current return-to-the-Moon timetable. For example, our previous audit work identified significant delays in other major programs essential to a lunar landing, including the Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule. Moreover, delays related to lunar lander development and the recently decided lander contract award bid protests will also preclude a 2024 landing.

As spacesuit development continues, evolving and competing requirements from key program stakeholders such as the HLS, ISS, and Gateway increases the risk of future cost, schedule, and performance issues. Additionally, prior to their use on ISS and Artemis missions, astronauts will require suits for training. However, training needs across the stakeholders—particularly the ISS and HLS programs—do not align with projections of when suit hardware will be available. Specifically, the EVA Office is concerned there will not be sufficient quantities of training hardware available for early training events to support the currently planned 2024 Artemis III mission.

As NASA continues to develop and mature its next-generation spacesuit capabilities, the Agency must decide on its approach to procuring additional suits for both ISS and Artemis missions. In October 2019, NASA issued a Request for Information (RFI) to determine industry capabilities to fulfill future spacesuit needs. At that time, NASA intended to initiate a hybrid contract consisting of a single prime contractor for integration and multiple awards for development and sustainment known as the Exploration Extravehicular Activity Production and Services (xEVAPS) contract. However, after 18 months NASA canceled the xEVAPS RFI and issued a new RFI in April 2021 for the Exploration Extravehicular Activity Services (xEVAS), significantly altering its approach for future suit acquisition by purchasing services instead of equipment. As previously discussed, to date NASA has spent more than $420 million on spacesuit design and development, but the new xEVAS RFI gives industry the choice to either leverage NASA's designs or propose their own. Therefore, the extent to which NASA's investments will be utilized is unclear. Additionally, the xEVAS RFI does not stipulate that the suit be compatible with both the ISS and Artemis programs, a distinction that could result in industry developing (and NASA purchasing) two different spacesuits—one for use in low Earth orbit on the ISS and another for use on the lunar surface during Artemis missions. Given the Station's limited expected lifespan, developing a suit solely for the ISS may not prove cost effective.

WHAT WE RECOMMENDED

To ensure the successful development of the xEMU, we made four recommendations to the Associate Administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, including (1) adjusting the schedule as appropriate to reduce development risks; (2) developing an integrated master schedule to incorporate and align the hardware deliveries and training needs of the dependent Programs—Gateway, ISS, and HLS—and the Flight Operations Directorate; (3) ensuring technical requirements for the next-generation suits are solidified before selecting the acquisition strategy to procure suits for the ISS and Artemis programs; and (4) developing an acquisition strategy for the next-generation spacesuits that meets the needs of both the ISS and Artemis programs.

We provided a draft of this report to NASA management who concurred with our recommendations and described planned actions to address them. We consider the proposed actions responsive and will close the recommendations upon their completion and verification.

Full report

// end //

More status reports and news releases or top stories.

Please follow SpaceRef on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.

SpaceRef Newsletter