Monthly Recap | August 2021
An opportunity for outdoor apparel and recreation companies, more Japanese companies join lunar ecosystem, Bosch and Nokia get involved in lunar industry
American outdoor apparel and recreation companies should not miss this opportunity
Here’s why you need to keep up with news in the lunar industry
This month, the NASA Inspector General posed that the agency won’t meet its 2024 target for a crewed lunar landing because its space suits won’t be completed in time. NASA has reportedly already spent $420 million on its space suit program with the total price tag expected to exceed $1 billion by completion.1 The program includes the development of NASA’s Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU), designed to protect astronauts during activity in lunar orbit and on the lunar surface.
“It’s time to let American industry suit up.“
Although NASA was aiming to develop the suits in-house, working with 27 different subcontractors, it is now considering asking private companies to develop the suits. In July, NASA published a draft request for proposal “to ready companies to compete for the agency’s future purchase of commercially built spacesuits,” stating, “this approach to spacesuit development aims to foster innovations in design, manufacturing, and purchasing so that NASA is just one of many customers in the marketplace.” NASA says the formal solicitation, which will be “open to all of industry” is expected for release this Fall with one or more awards in Spring 2022. (Note: A Teslarati article suggests the RFP will come in mid-September with the proposal period closing in mid-October, but I haven’t seen these dates mentioned officially.)
Also, back in April, NASA announced that it was seeking to purchase “spacesuit services” from commercial partners. Bloomberg opinion columnist Adam Minter wrote, “industry responded enthusiastically, with more than 50 companies* expressing interest” (*correction: 42 companies). According to a list published on the NASA Johnson Space Center website, one of those companies was SpaceX.2
“SpaceX could do it if need be.”
When CNBC’s Michael Sheetz broke the news of the inspector general’s report in a tweet this month, Elon Musk responded, “SpaceX could do it if need be.” There’s little reason to doubt him, considering the speed in which the company has accomplished many impressive achievements in recent years.
The company already has some experience designing spacesuits. To produce the black-and-white, form-fitting suits made for astronauts to wear on the Crew Dragon, SpaceX worked with a Hollywood costume designer for superhero movies such as Batman v Superman, The Avengers, and X-Men II,3 who also designed the helmets for Daft Punk.4 However, it took the company almost four years to design those suits.5 In order to meet the 2024 (or even 2025) timeline, the company would need to devise a plan to develop NASA’s suits—which are far more complex—in a shorter timeframe.
However, in my view, this is a huge opportunity for American outdoor apparel and recreation companies like The North Face, Columbia Sportswear or Patagonia to step in, in the same fashion as SpaceX, to offer solutions to reduce costs and production time, while proposing to work with a knowledgeable and trusted space industry partner to guarantee safety and reliability.
“The idea is that competitive entrepreneurs, seeking profit as well as glory, will innovate and reduce costs.”
- Minter, Bloomberg
Certainly, there would be an attractive pay-out (see: NASA budget mentioned above), but near-term profits aside, you can’t place a value on the tremendous promotion opportunity. The move could be deemed both heroic and patriotic—rescuing NASA’s timeline and supporting America to maintain its leadership in space in the face of China’s growing dominance in the domain. The everlasting value of the historical legacy cannot be ignored either; not only could the company be forever connected to this incredible moment for humanity, but it could also be remembered for generations to come as the force that triggered a wave of American non-space companies using their services and specialties to support lunar exploration, radically changing the playing field by driving down costs, bolstering innovation, and creating new jobs.
There is also the future earning potential to be considered. From an advertising perspective, the company would be able to say, “this item is produced with the same material we provided to NASA’s astronauts to protect them from the extreme conditions on the Moon,” as well as the chance to get ahead of peers in supplying products and services to the burgeoning lunar market.
There is precedent for this sort of collaboration. In 2019, Under Armour designed the space wear for Virgin Galactic’s space tourism business.6 That same year, The North Face collaborated with biomaterials startup Spiber to launch its limited-edition “MOON PARKA” jacket made from artificially synthesized structural protein.7
If NASA doesn’t have a domestic source requirement for this solicitation, this may even be an opportunity for Canadian companies like Canada Goose or Arc'teryx. Not only would Canadian players be well-positioned to take on this challenge considering their geography and climate, but in the spirit of international collaboration, Canada is also one of the signatories of the NASA-led Artemis Accords.
Of course, there would be a massive knowledge gap for these companies to develop such a technologically-complex outfit. NASA called the xEMU suits “a personalized spaceship that mimics all of the protections from the harsh environment of space and the basic resources that Earth and its atmosphere provide,” and explained in detail the features and requirements:
A backpack that houses breathable air and removes exhaled carbon dioxide and other toxic gasses, odors and moisture from the suit;
regulate temperature and monitors overall suit performance, emitting warnings if resources fall low, or if there is a system failure;
miniaturization of electronics and plumbing systems;
joint bearings allowing bending at the knees, bending and rotating at the hips, rotation from shoulder to wrist, and hiking-style boots with flexible soles;
ability to withstand temperature extremes of minus 250 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade and up to 250 degrees in the sun;
protection from radiation, micrometeoroids, and reduced atmospheric pressure;
features to prevent inhalation or contamination from the “tiny glass-like shards” of lunar soil;
multiple, embedded, voice-activated microphones that automatically pick up the astronaut’s voice when they speak;
a diaper-like garment stitched together for maximum absorption;
interchangeable parts that can be configured for spacewalks in microgravity or on a planetary surface;
a quick-swap, easily-replaceable protective visor in the helmet; and,
designed using full-body 3D scans to provide ultimate comfort and the broadest range of motion, while reducing potential for injury or skin irritation.
And all of that needs to be kept at a mass of under 177.1 kilograms (390 lb.).8
As mentioned, to overcome the technical knowledge gap, outdoor apparel and recreation companies would likely need to partner with a large aerospace firm, such as Lockheed Martin (à la the General Motors-Lockheed Martin collaboration on a lunar vehicle), SpaceX or another major space company, or even construct a public-private partnership with NASA. This could also possibly go down better with NASA, Congress, and the American taxpayer, as well as the astronauts utilizing the suits, assuming the costs could be reduced without jeopardizing safety and reliability.
This is why non-space corporations need to be paying attention to space news, or more specifically lunar news, in order to get these rare insights and a competitive edge, even if it’s just for marketing and promotional opportunities. Interestingly, a short article about this news was published in men’s fashion magazine GQ. Unfortunately, it provided no “call to action” for the apparel industry to engage.
Back in 2019, when the prototype xEMU suits were unveiled, NASA’s Chris Hansen said, “We don’t want to be in the suit production business. That’s much better left to industry…We want them to find out how to build our suits cheaper, faster, and provide those suits to commercial entities.”9 As Minter said in his Bloomberg column, “NASA now has options beyond the traditional contractors who’ve long helped it build space hardware in-house…it’s time to let American industry suit up.“
More lunar business consortiums emerge in Japan
In my July newsletter, I wrote about the new consortium of Japanese business, legislators and academia known as the Lunar Industry Vision Council. Now, this month, two additional lunar-interested consortiums made headlines in Japan.
One of the members of the Lunar Industry Vision Council, Yokogawa Electric, reportedly plans to join The University of Tokyo and the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology in establishing a consortium, including several private Japanese companies, to conduct research and development for a water exploration project on the Moon. This comes in response to alleged plans by Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications to launch a lunar satellite in 2025 aiming to digitize and map out water locations on the Moon.10
Separately, a consortium of Japanese food companies will collaborate with the government and JAXA to research food production on the Moon. The group includes seasoning maker Ajinomoto and IT services firm NTT Data, among others. The study aims to develop an indoor plant factory for a large number of astronauts on long-term lunar missions. After initial research, the team may migrate the study to a location similar to the lunar environment, such as Antarctica.11
Other interesting news this month
Bosch has partnered with SAGA Space Architects of Denmark who is designing a lunar habitat called Lunark. According to its LinkedIn post, the German engineering and technology company is supporting the project through its expertise in power tools. SAGA’s website also displays more partners for the project, such as Garmin, Lenovo, Nikon, and GoPro.
Nokia reiterated its excitement to build a cellular network on the Moon in partnership with Intuitive Machines and shared its latest updates, such as the completion of key engineering milestones.
Lander companies Intuitive Machines and ispace both announced plans for a third lunar mission in 2024. Intuitive Machines will utilize its Nova-C lander for its third mission with a launch planned for Q1 2024.12 ispace unveiled its Series 2 lander, which is being developed by its US branch and intended for first-use on the company’s third mission, targeting the first half of 2024.13†
American launch provider Rocket Lab, who recently went public, announced that it will launch CAPSTONE, a NASA-funded commercial lunar satellite, in Q4 of this year. The small satellite is intended to reduce risk for future spacecraft by validating innovative navigation technologies and verifying the dynamics of a unique lunar orbit. The mission is the first time Rocket Lab will launch a payload into a trajectory that will take it to the Moon.14
South Korea's science ministry said the country’s first lunar mission is on schedule to launch in August 2022. It says the South Korean space agency, KARI, will complete its lunar orbiter by October 2021 before proceeding to final testing and then launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.15 Earlier this month, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) announced that it plans to upgrade its launch vehicle to be capable of launching a lunar probe.16
Russia’s Luna-25 mission, originally scheduled for launch in October this year and aiming to probe ice deposits at the Moon’s south pole, was postponed to May 2022 due to problems during testing.17 Russia’s space agency Roscosmos also announced this month that it plans to involve a non-governmental scientific organization, the Astronomic Scientific Center, in the development of its lunar research base.18
China is reportedly developing a lunar lander for human missions, which has been referred to as a “national strategy”.19 Late last month, it was reported that China is also developing a lunar relay satellite to support communications for multiple spacecraft it plans to operate at the Moon’s south pole. The satellite will be designed for an 8 year mission.20
American aerospace manufacturer and space infrastructure technology company Redwire made several announcements this month: The company won the 1st place prize of $125,000 out of a total of $500,000 awarded by NASA to 13 teams taking part in a competition to propose moon mining technology concepts21; it was awarded a subcontract from Firefly Aerospace to provide avionics and navigation systems for their Blue Ghost lunar lander22; and it sent hardware to the ISS to demonstrate 3D printing with lunar regolith simulant in microgravity.23
† The author of this newsletter is employed by ispace. I do my best to be fair and objective. All opinions and analysis are my own. Read full disclaimer in the newsletter About section.
A $1 billion space suit is holding up NASA’s 2024 moon landing; Quartz, Aug 13 2021.
My, That’s a Snug-Fitting Spacesuit Jeff Bezos Is Wearing; The Daily Beast, July 19 2021.
THE WORLD'S FIRST SPACESUIT ENGINEERED FOR THE MASSES; Under Armour, Oct 16 2019.
Lunar spacesuits won’t be ready in time for 2024 landing; SpaceNews, Aug 11 2021.
NASA unveils future Moon spacesuits that should be ready by 2024; The Verge, Oct 15 2019.
Moon exploration by Japan group seeks water and resources; Nikkei Asian Review, Aug 10 2021.
Japan research group to explore sustainable food source for lunar missions; Japan Times, Aug 11 2021.
Three-peat: Intuitive Machines Selects SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket for Third Moon Mission; Intuitive Machines, Aug 10 2021.
Rocket Lab to Launch NASA Funded Commercial Moon Mission From New Zealand; Business Wire (via Rocket Lab), Aug 6 2021.
S. Korea's lunar orbiter on track for launch next year; Yonhap, Aug 30 2021.
[Exclusive] "I will launch a lunar probe"... Korean projectile challenge site KAI production site; Maeil Business News, Aug 10 2021.
Russia Postpones Lunar Mission Over ‘Problems During Testing'; The Moscow Times, Aug 24 2021.
China is working on a lander for human moon missions; SpaceNews, Aug 9 2021.
China is working on a relay satellite to support lunar polar missions; SpaceNews, Jul 26 2021.
NASA Awards $500,000 in Break the Ice Lunar Challenge; NASA, Aug 19 2021.