NASA Tests SpaceX Starship Hardware and New Spacesuits for Artemis Mission

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By Lydia Amazouz Published on June 10, 2024 07:00
Nasa Tests Spacex Starship Hardware And New Spacesuits For Artemis Mission

NASA astronauts, in collaboration with industry partners, are gearing up for the Artemis program, which aims to return humans to the Moon for the first time since 1972.

This ambitious endeavor involves a series of tests and preparations to ensure that all systems are ready for lunar exploration. One of the key aspects of these preparations is the evaluation of new spacesuits and hardware that will be used during Artemis missions.

Recently, astronauts Doug “Wheels” Wheelock and Peggy Whitson donned spacesuits developed by Axiom Space to interact with and assess the full-scale developmental hardware of SpaceX’s Starship Human Landing System (HLS). This marked the first time astronauts in pressurized suits engaged with a test version of Starship HLS hardware, representing a significant milestone in the Artemis program.

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Comprehensive Testing of New Technologies

The day-long test, conducted at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, provided invaluable feedback on various aspects of the Starship HLS. The evaluation focused on the layout, physical design, mechanical assemblies, and clearances inside the spacecraft, as well as the flexibility and agility of the spacesuits, known as the AxEMU (Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit).

The test began with Wheelock and Whitson putting on the spacesuits in a full-scale airlock situated on Starship’s airlock deck. The suits were then pressurized using a system outside the HLS airlock that provided air, electrical power, cooling, and communications to the astronauts. Each AxEMU also included a full-scale model of the Portable Life Support System, or “backpack,” essential for lunar operations.

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Nasa Tests Spacex Starship Hardware And New Spacesuits For Artemis Mission

During the test, NASA and SpaceX engineers evaluated the placement of mobility aids, such as handrails for traversing the hatch. Another set of aids, straps hanging from the ceiling, assisted the astronauts when entering and removing the AxEMU suits. The astronauts practiced interacting with a control panel in the airlock to ensure that controls could be reached and activated while wearing gloves. According to Logan Kennedy, lead for surface activities in NASA’s HLS Program, the astronauts successfully operated the control panel and performed the tasks necessary for lunar surface operations.

Preparing for Lunar Surface Operations

The suited astronauts also walked from Starship’s airlock deck to an elevator built for testing purposes. During Artemis missions, this elevator will transport astronauts and their equipment from the deck to the lunar surface and back. Wheelock and Whitson practiced opening a gate to enter the elevator and evaluated the dexterity of the AxEMU suit gloves. The steps taken by the astronauts through full-scale builds of the Starship hatch, airlock, airlock deck, and elevator may have been small, but they marked an important step toward preparing for a new generation of moonwalks as part of Artemis.

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Nasa Tests Spacex Starship Hardware And New Spacesuits For Artemis Mission 3

For the Artemis III mission, SpaceX will provide the Starship HLS that will dock with Orion in lunar orbit and take two astronauts to and from the surface of the Moon. Axiom Space is providing a new generation of spacesuits for moonwalks designed to fit a wider range of astronauts. These collaborations highlight the integration of new technologies and partnerships that are crucial for the success of deep space missions.

The Path to Future Exploration

With Artemis, NASA will explore more of the Moon than ever before, learning how to live and work away from Earth and preparing for future human exploration of Mars. NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, exploration ground systems, and Orion spacecraft, along with the human landing system, next-generation spacesuits, Gateway lunar space station, and future rovers, form the foundation for deep space exploration. The comprehensive testing and evaluation of these systems ensure that astronauts are equipped with the safest and most effective tools for their missions.

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The steps taken by Wheelock and Whitson in testing the Starship hardware and new spacesuits represent significant progress toward the realization of the Artemis program's goals. As NASA and its partners continue to refine and test these technologies, each milestone brings humanity closer to its next giant leap on the Moon and, eventually, Mars.

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An editor specializing in astronomy and space industry, passionate about uncovering the mysteries of the universe and the technological advances that propel space exploration.

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