Prada is collaborating with Houston-based aerospace company Axiom Space on the design of spacesuits for NASA’s Artemis III mission to the moon. Photo via axiomspace.com

Courtesy of the Prada luxury brand, NASA astronauts are getting an infusion of fashion.

Prada is collaborating with Houston-based aerospace company Axiom Space on the design of spacesuits for NASA’s Artemis III mission to the moon. Astronauts haven’t yet been chosen for the mission, which is set for 2025.

“Prada’s technical expertise with raw materials, manufacturing techniques, and innovative design concepts will bring advanced technologies instrumental in ensuring not only the comfort of astronauts on the lunar surface, but also the much-needed human factors considerations absent from legacy spacesuits,” says Michael Suffredini, co-founder, president, and CEO of Axiom Space.

The spacesuit, called the Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit (AxEMU), is geared toward improving astronauts’ flexibility, boosting protection against harsh conditions, and supplying tools for exploration and scientific activities.

“Our decades of experimentation, cutting-edge technology, and design know-how – which started back in the ’90s with Luna Rossa challenging for the America’s Cup – will now be applied to the design of a spacesuit for the Artemis era. It is a true celebration of the power of human creativity and innovation to advance civilization,” says Lorenzo Bertelli, marketing director of the Prada brand.

NASA has enlisted Axiom and Charlotte, North Carolina-based Collins Aerospace to outfit astronauts with next-generation spacesuits. Axiom’s partners on this project are KBR and Sophic Synergistics, both based in Houston, along with Air-Lock, A-P-T Research, Arrow Science and Technology, David Clark Co., and Paragon Space Development.

Collins maintains a sizable presence at the Houston Spaceport.

In July, Axiom secured a NASA task order potentially worth $147 million to modify the Artemis III spacesuit for astronauts heading to the International Space Station. This follows a $228 million NASA task order awarded to Axiom in 2022 for development of the Artemis III spacesuit.

The task orders are part of Axiom’s $1.26 billion spacesuit contract with NASA. All told, NASA has earmarked as much as $3.5 billion for new spacesuits.

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

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

getting ready to moon walk

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.

NASA has issued another grant to Collins Aerospace to design the future of spacewalks and moonwalks. Image via NASA

Aerospace company tapped for mission for new spacewalk, moonwalk system

in the works

Charlotte, North Carolina-based Collins Aerospace has been selected by NASA to develop a spacewalking system for the astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

The award, which is the second under NASA’s Exploration EVA Services contract, has a base value of $97.2 million, per a Dec. 8 news release from NASA. The company has until January 2024 "to complete a critical design review and demonstrate use of the suit on Earth in a simulated space environment," according to NASA, which will then decide the option to extend the contract for testing to be conducted by April 2026.

NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston manages the spacesuit contract. Collins Aerospace has had a presence in Houston for 40 years, and recently cut the ribbon on a $30 million facility near the JSC.

“We look forward to obtaining another much-needed service under our contract,” says Lara Kearney, manager of the Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility Program at JSC, in the release. “By working with industry, NASA is able to continue its over 22-year legacy of maintaining a presence in low-Earth orbit.”

The current system was designed decades ago and has been used during previous space shuttle and space station missions. Collins Aerospace will work with Houston-based Axiom Space on this project, which was initially announced this summer.

"Both vendors will continue to compete for future task orders which include recurring services for station spacewalks and moonwalks beyond Artemis III," the news release reads.

Space experts discussed the city's role in the space industry at a recent event. Photo via NASA

Overheard: Houston needs to strengthen infrastructure, workforce to maintain Space City status

eavesdropping in houston

In no time at all, humans will return to the moon and as they make the first spacewalks in fifty years — wearing suits designed in Houston — they will call down to earth, and only one city in the world will be named on the radio transmissions.

Houston is the Space City — but what will it take to maintain that moniker? This was a big topic of the Greater Houston Partnership's second annual State of Space event hosted on Tuesday, October 11.

A diverse and impressive panel discussed the Space City's future, the upcoming moon missions, commercializations, and more. If you missed the discussion, check out some key moments from the event.

"Houston has a significant role in all areas of Artemis."

— Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA's Johnson Space Center. "We have crew missions, robotic missions, and other technologies that will make up Artemis."

"The big mission we have is for Houston to remain the hub in human space flight moving forward."

— Wyche says, adding "for us to be the nexus and accelerator of research, innovation, and STEM, we need to work together for workforce development for the space economy."

"We're at a point were we can pivot to develop scalable products at a much lower cost — it really reduces the barrier of entry for commercial space partners."

— Peggy Guirgis, general manager of space systems for Collins Aerospace. "We're building in Houston because this is really an engineering hub," she adds, noting the industries and schools here that support the industry.

"Why Houston? Because of, more than anything, the sense of community."

— Steve Altemus, president and CEO of Intuitive Machines, noting the support behind building the Houston Spaceport and the existing Johnson Space Center, as well as all the other players within the space sector locally.

"At some point in the very near future we are going to land humans on the moon — the first woman on the moon, the first person of color on the moon — and we're going to say, 'Moon, Houston.' This is the only city in the world that's going to be said on those loops."

— Kate Rubins, NASA astronaut. "I feel very fortunate to be here."

"Right here in Houston — at the HoustonSpaceport, we're building a space where the Space Force can do classified work."

— Altemus says. "That's one area that I'd like to see grow."

"We need to continue to build a talent pipeline as well as generating a workforce that is able to keep pace with the rapidly growing space industry."

— Guirgis says.

"When people think about Houston, NASA has been the nexus and center of gravity, but all of Houston has been a magnet. It's a draw to come and work here."

— Rubins says. "One way to continue this is through infrastructure that's being built here — it's incredible. It's going to cement this as a place that you want to come if you're a commercial company and you want to partner with NASA, or you want to be a contractor for one of these other companies. ... And the startup scene is booming these days in Houston."

"We need to make sure that we have the world-class capabilities."

— Wyche says. "The workforce is so very important."

Collins Aerospace celebrated the opening of its new facility this week. Image courtesy of Collins Aerospace

Aerospace company opens new $30M Houston Spaceport location, plans to move in

new digs

Collins Aerospace has cut the ribbon on its new 120,000 square-foot facility located at the Houston Spaceport in Houston — all that's left for the global aerospace and defense company is to move in.

“Collins’ long history of innovating, developing and delivering the critical systems that have played an integral role in humankind’s exploration of space takes yet another step forward with the opening of this state-of-the-art facility at the Houston Spaceport,” says Phil Jasper, president of Collins Aerospace’s Mission Systems business, in a news release.

“This strategic location and our strong local partnerships are driving the next-generation technologies that will enable humankind to live, work and play in space,” he continues.

The new, $30 million facility for Charlotte, North Carolina-based Collins Aerospace, will feature 10,000 square feet dedicated to an incubator supporting aerospace startups.

The unique spaceflight incubator, which was announced to receive up to $25.6 million in financing from Houston Airports for capital improvements, be a place where startups, universities and industry professionals can collaborate using robotics, medicine, additive manufacturing, and more to solve complex space technology challenges.

“The expansion of Collins Aerospace at the Houston Spaceport is a crucial next step in the city’s journey to be the country’s premier next-generation aerospace and technical hub,” says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in the release.

“The innovative technologies created at this facility will also serve as the critical systems to support humankind’s future space exploration and habitation. We look forward to fueling the future of aerospace right here in Houston,” he continues.

Collins, which has had a presence in Houston for around 40 years, announced the new facility after reaching capacity at its other location. The expanded operations will add an additional 300 jobs in the coming years.

Axiom Space — along with Collins Aerospace — are teaming up with NASA to create the next generation of astronaut gear. Image via NASA

NASA taps Houston companies for revolutionary spacesuit project

gear up

Two startups — including Houston-based Axiom Space — have been tasked with helping NASA gear up for human space exploration at the International Space Station and on the moon as part of a spacesuit deal potentially worth billions of dollars.

NASA recently picked Axiom and Collins Aerospace to help advance spacewalking capabilities in low-earth orbit and on the moon by outfitting astronauts with next-generation spacesuits. While headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, Collins has a significant presence in the Houston Spaceport.

This deal will help support landing the first woman and the first person of color on the moon as part of NASA’s return to our lunar neighbor. The equipment also will help NASA prepare for human missions to Mars.

Under this agreement, NASA, Axiom and Collins “will develop advanced, reliable spacesuits that allow humans to explore the cosmos unlike ever before,” Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, says in a news release. “By partnering with industry, we are efficiently advancing the necessary technology to keep Americans on a path of successful discovery on the International Space Station and as we set our sights on exploring the lunar surface.”

Axiom and Collins were chosen under an umbrella contract known as Exploration Extravehicular Activity Services (xEVAS). The contract carries a potential value of $3.5 billion.

Michael Suffredini, co-founder, president, and CEO of Axiom, says his company’s “innovative approach to xEVAS spacesuits provides NASA with an evolvable design that enables cost-efficient development, testing, training, deployment, and real-time operations to address a variety of EVA needs and operational scenarios for a range of customers, including NASA.”

Axiom’s partners on this project are KBR and Sophic Synergistics, both based in Houston, along with Air-Lock, David Clark Co., Paragon Space Development, and A-P-T Research.

NASA says Axiom and Collins will own the spacesuits, and are being encouraged to explore non-NASA commercial applications for data and technology they co-develop with the space agency.

The EVA & Human Surface Mobility Program at the Johnson Space Center is managing the xEVAS contract.

NASA astronauts have needed updated spacesuits for years.

“The decades-old spacesuit designs currently in use on the International Space Station are well past their prime. NASA had been working on new suits and showed off a patriotic prototype of a moonwalking outfit — called the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or xEMU — back in 2019,” according to CNET.

A 2021 report from NASA’s Office of Inspector General called out delays in developing the spacesuits that would make a proposed 2024 human moon landing unfeasible, CNET says. Now, Axiom and Collins, instead of NASA, will create the spacesuits. Demonstration-ready spacesuits are supposed to be ready in 2025.

The spacesuit deal is the latest in a string of milestones for Axiom.

Axiom recently broke ground on its new headquarters at Houston Spaceport. There, the company will build Axiom Station, the world’s first commercial space station.

Axiom also recently welcomed home the crew of Axiom Mission 1 after their successful completion of the first all-private astronaut mission to the International Space Station. The crew came back to earth in a SpaceX capsule. The company has signed agreements with several countries, including Italy, Hungary, and the United Arab Emirates, for future space missions.

Axiom recently tapped Italian Air Force Col. Walter Villadei as its first international professional astronaut. He currently is being trained in Houston and will serve as a backup on Axiom Mission 2.

Founded in 2016, Axiom employs more than 500 people, most of whom work in Houston. The company expects its workforce to exceed 1,000 employees by 2023.

To date, Axiom has raised $150 million in venture capital.

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Houston tech platform raises series C round backed by Mastercard

money moves

Hello Alice, a fintech platform that supports 1.5 million small businesses across the country, has announced its series C round.

The amount raised was not disclosed, but Hello Alice reported that the fresh funding has brought the company's valuation to $130 million. Alexandria, Virginia-based QED Investors led the round, and investors included Mastercard, Backstage Capital, Guy Fieri, Golden Seeds, Harbert Growth Partners Fund, How Women Invest I, LP, Lovell Limited Partnership, Tyler “Ninja” and Jessica Blevins, and Tamera Mowry and Adam Housley, per a news release from the company.

“We are thrilled to hit the milestone of 1.5 million small businesses utilizing Hello Alice to elevate the American dream. There are more entrepreneurs launching this year than in the history of our country, and we will continue to ensure they get the capital needed to grow,” Elizabeth Gore and Carolyn Rodz, co-founders of Hello Alice, say in a news release. “In closing our Series C, we welcome Mastercard to our family of investors and continue to be grateful to QED, How Women Invest, and our advocates such as Guy Fieri.”

The funding will go toward expanding capital offerings and AI-driven tools for its small business membership.

“Our team focuses on finding and investing in companies that are obsessed with reducing friction and providing superior financial services solutions to their customers,” QED Investors Co-Founder Frank Rotman says in the release. “Hello Alice has proven time and time again that they are on the leading edge of providing equitable access to capital and banking services to the small business ecosystem."

Hello Alice, which closed its series B in 2021 at $21 million, has collaborated with Mastercard prior to the series C, offering small business owners the Hello Alice Small Business Mastercard in 2022 and a free financial wellness tool, Business Health Score, last year. Mastercard also teamed up with other partners for the the Equitable Access Fund in 2023.

“With Hello Alice, we’re investing to provide support to small business owners as they look to access capital, helping to address one of the most cited business challenges they face,” Ginger Siegel, Mastercard's North America Small Business Lead, adds. “By working together to simplify access to the products and services they need when building and growing their business, we’re helping make a meaningful impact on the individuals who run their businesses, the customers they serve, and our communities and economy at large.”

While Hello Alice's founders' mission is to help small businesses, their own company was threatened by a lawsuit from America First Legal. The organization, founded by former Trump Administration adviser Stephen Miller and features a handful of other former White House officials on its board, is suing Hello Alice and its partner, Progressive Insurance. The lawsuit alleges that their program to award10 $25,000 grants to Black-owned small businesses constitutes racial discrimination. Gore calls the lawsuit frivolous in an interview on the Houston Innovators Podcast. The legal battle is ongoing.

Inspired by the lawsuit, Hello Alice launched the Elevate the American Dream, a grant program that's highlighting small businesses living out their American dreams. The first 14 grants have already been distributed, and Hello Alice plans to award more grants over the next several weeks, putting their grant funding at over $40 million.


NASA awards $30M to Houston space tech company to develop lunar rover

moon rider

Houston-based space technology company Intuitive Machines has landed a $30 million NASA contract for the initial phase of developing a rover for U.S. astronauts to traverse the moon’s surface.

Intuitive Machines is one of three companies chosen by NASA to perform preliminary work on building a lunar terrain vehicle that would enable astronauts to travel on the moon’s surface so they can conduct scientific research and prepare for human missions to Mars.

The two other companies are Golden, Colorado-based Lunar Outpost and Hawthorne, California-based Astrolab.

NASA plans to initially use the vehicle for its Artemis V lunar mission, which aims to put two astronauts on the moon. It would be the first time since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972 that astronauts would step foot on the lunar surface.

The Artemis V mission, tentatively set for 2029, will be the fifth mission under NASA’s Artemis program.

“This vehicle will greatly increase our astronauts’ ability to explore and conduct science on the lunar surface while also serving as a science platform between crewed missions,” says Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Intuitive Machines says the $30 million NASA contract represents its entrance into human spaceflight operations for the space agency’s $4.6 billion moon rover project. The vehicle — which Intuitive Machines has dubbed the Moon Reusable Autonomous Crewed Exploration Rover (RACER) — will be based on the company’s lunar lander.

“Our global team is on a path to provide essential lunar infrastructure services to NASA in a project that would allow [us] to retain ownership of the vehicle for commercial utilization during periods of non-NASA activity over approximately 10 years of lunar surface activity,” says exploration,” says Steve Altemus, CEO of Intuitive Machines.

Intuitive Machines’ partners on the RACER project include AVL, Boeing, Michelin, and Northrop Grumman.

Intuitive Machines plans to bid on the second phase of the rover project after finishing its first-phase feasibility study. The second phase will involve developing, delivering, and operating the rover.

In February, Intuitive Machines became the first private company to land a spacecraft on the moon with no crewmembers aboard. NASA was the key customer for that mission.