The Artemis programme is in full swing. The new Space Launch System (SLS), launched in November 2022, carried the ESA-developed Orion capsule in the first leg of its journey, which included a flyby of the moon and a safe return to Earth. The next mission, Artemis II, will carry four astronauts on the Orion capsule in preparation for Artemis III, the mission that will see humans set foot on the moon for the first time since 1972.
The success of Artemis III will rely on significant work and innovation from engineers, scientists and industry. NASA has now revealed an important part of that ongoing effort - the prototype of the next-generation spacesuit that will be worn by the Artemis III astronauts.
The spacesuit was designed and created by Axiom Space, and is characteristic of the new age of human space exploration. The spacesuit is designed to be more flexible and streamlined than the old, bulky Apollo suits. Furthermore, the spacesuit is specifically designed to accommodate a wide range of users – it will be able to fit the body dimensions of 90% of the US population – both men and women. Such design characteristics are more than just aesthetics, since the suit design will need to accommodate the wide range of movements necessary to perform complex tasks on the Moon’s surface. Achieving ergonomic efficiency, while accommodating a wide range of body types, is an interesting technical challenge and an encouraging development in our long-term space aspirations.
However, people may say that regardless of how exciting and inspiring such achievements are, investment into human spaceflight is a waste of money and time. Some have argued that human space flight inventions such as the spacesuit do not have any practical application here on Earth.
To argue this is to ignore the long-term impact and wider context in which such innovation is made. Space-based technology can give rise a wealth of innovation and progress that can affect us in our day-to-day lives. In the example of Axiom’s spacesuit, ergonomics was not the only technical challenge that needed to be overcome – in order to win the contract, Axiom space needed to demonstrate their suit could meet many different technical requirements set by NASA. These include mitigation of lunar dust contamination, partial pressure of carbon dioxide, internal suit temperatures, noise limits for communication devices, protection from UV and infrared, and many more. While each these requirements were specified in the context of the Artemis mission, it will be appreciated that the context of many of the problems (e.g. safety from UV/IR radiation) can be applied across a wide range of scenarios, including those here on Earth.
The value of the solutions developed by space tech companies such as Axiom will only increase as more investment and opportunity is provided. We have no doubt that, in time, many innovations resulting from the Artemis mission will find their way into every day use.