RTX's Collins in talks to drop ISS spacesuit contract with NASA, sources say

By Joey Roulette

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -RTX Corp subsidiary Collins Aerospace is in talks with NASA to back out of its contract to build new spacesuits for astronauts on the International Space Station, a setback as the agency struggles with its decades-old spacewalking suits, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

The contract was part of $3.5 billion NASA awarded to both Collins and Axiom Space in 2022 to build new spacesuits for the ISS and future moon missions. Collins got an initial $97 million under the program for ISS suit development, while it could vie with Axiom to get additional funds to work on lunar spacesuits.

But Collins’ role in the program has been bumpy and development has fallen behind schedule, and the company has been in talks with NASA officials on how to wind down its role in the program, the two people said.

“After a thorough evaluation, Collins Aerospace and NASA mutually agreed to descope Exploration Extravehicular Activity Services (xEVAS) task orders,” a Collins spokeswoman said in a statement, referring to the spacesuit contract.

NASA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The spacesuit woes add to a long history of difficulties NASA has faced in modernizing what are essentially human-shaped spacecraft – bulky, complex systems U.S. astronauts use to venture outside of the ISS some 250 miles (400 km) above Earth for routine repairs on the football field-sized lab’s exterior.

The talks to end Collins’ contract come at a difficult time for NASA as it suffers a rare streak of astronaut spacewalk cancellations at the ISS this month because of its current, some 40-year-old, spacesuits, which are managed by Collins.

The agency said a “spacesuit discomfort issue” forced the cancellation of two astronauts planned spacewalk on June 13 just before it was poised to begin. Then a second attempt at the spacewalk, on Monday, was canceled minutes into the six-hour mission because of a water leak in U.S. astronaut Tracy Dyson’s suit.

“There’s water everywhere … I got an arctic blast all over my visor,” Dyson reported to mission control.

Past spacewalks have been called off over issues with the station’s spacesuits, which have only had minor redesigns and refurbishments since their conception nearly half a century ago. NASA’s inspector general and its independent Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel have long pushed the agency to upgrade them.

Collins’ backing out of the new spacesuit program appears to put NASA’s future suits in the hands of Axiom, a startup managing astronaut flights and building its own space station. Axiom did not immediately return a request for comment.

(Reporting by Joey Roulette, Editing by Nick Zieminski and Sandra Maler)

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