getting ready to moon walk

NASA expands spacesuit partnerships with 2 Houston tech companies in $5M deals

For its return to the moon, NASA has doubled down on its relationships with two companies in Houston. Photo courtesy of NASA

Two Houston space tech companies are suiting up thanks to an expanded relationship with NASA.

Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace, which have been working with NASA developing new spacesuits since last summer, have each received $5 million to continue their work. The new spacesuits will be used in NASA's upcoming Artemis missions. Axiom Space, which unveiled its design in March, is creating a suit that will be used in low Earth orbit, and Collins Aerospace, headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, but with a significant presence in Houston, will build a suit that will be worn on the lunar surface.

“These task orders position NASA for success should additional capabilities become necessary or advantageous to NASA’s missions as the agency paves the way for deep space exploration and commercialization of low Earth orbit,” says Lara Kearney, manager of the Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility Program at the Johnson Space Center, in a news release. “Using this competitive approach we will enhance redundancy, expand future capabilities, and further invest in the space economy.”

The spacesuit, revealed in March, will be worn by the first woman and first person of color to visit the moon. Photo courtesy of Axiom Space

These two new Exploration Extravehicular Activity Services task orders are being issued due to an increased capability request.

"Axiom Space was previously awarded an initial task order to develop a spacewalking system for a demonstration in partial gravity on the lunar surface during Artemis III and will now begin early assessments for extending that suit for use outside the International Space Station," reads the NASA news release. "Likewise, Collins Aerospace was previously awarded an initial task order to develop a spacewalking system for a demonstration in microgravity outside the space station and will now begin early assessments for extending that suit for use on the lunar surface."

Each part of the missions — low Earth orbit and the lunar surface — come with their own set of challenges, including variation in gravitational fields, environments, and mission tasks. These suits will potentially be used throughout the lunar missions through 2034.

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A research team housed out of the newly launched Rice Biotech Launch Pad received funding to scale tech that could slash cancer deaths in half. Photo via Rice University

A research funding agency has deployed capital into a team at Rice University that's working to develop a technology that could cut cancer-related deaths in half.

Rice researchers received $45 million from the National Institutes of Health's Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H, to scale up development of a sense-and-respond implant technology. Rice bioengineer Omid Veiseh leads the team developing the technology as principal investigator.

“Instead of tethering patients to hospital beds, IV bags and external monitors, we’ll use a minimally invasive procedure to implant a small device that continuously monitors their cancer and adjusts their immunotherapy dose in real time,” he says in a news release. “This kind of ‘closed-loop therapy’ has been used for managing diabetes, where you have a glucose monitor that continuously talks to an insulin pump. But for cancer immunotherapy, it’s revolutionary.”

Joining Veiseh on the 19-person research project named THOR, which stands for “targeted hybrid oncotherapeutic regulation,” is Amir Jazaeri, co-PI and professor of gynecologic oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The device they are developing is called HAMMR, or hybrid advanced molecular manufacturing regulator.

“Cancer cells are continually evolving and adapting to therapy. However, currently available diagnostic tools, including radiologic tests, blood assays and biopsies, provide very infrequent and limited snapshots of this dynamic process," Jazaeri adds. "As a result, today’s therapies treat cancer as if it were a static disease. We believe THOR could transform the status quo by providing real-time data from the tumor environment that can in turn guide more effective and tumor-informed novel therapies.”

With a national team of engineers, physicians, and experts across synthetic biology, materials science, immunology, oncology, and more, the team will receive its funding through the Rice Biotech Launch Pad, a newly launched initiative led by Veiseh that exists to help life-saving medical innovation scale quickly.

"Rice is proud to be the recipient of the second major funding award from the ARPA-H, a new funding agency established last year to support research that catalyzes health breakthroughs," Rice President Reginald DesRoches says. "The research Rice bioengineer Omid Veiseh is doing in leading this team is truly groundbreaking and could potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives each year. This is the type of research that makes a significant impact on the world.”

The initial focus of the technology will be on ovarian cancer, and this funding agreement includes a first-phase clinical trial of HAMMR for the treatment of recurrent ovarian cancer that's expected to take place in the fourth year of THOR’s multi-year project.

“The technology is broadly applicable for peritoneal cancers that affect the pancreas, liver, lungs and other organs,” Veiseh says. “The first clinical trial will focus on refractory recurrent ovarian cancer, and the benefit of that is that we have an ongoing trial for ovarian cancer with our encapsulated cytokine ‘drug factory’ technology. We'll be able to build on that experience. We have already demonstrated a unique model to go from concept to clinical trial within five years, and HAMMR is the next iteration of that approach.”

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