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

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.

Recently, Collins Aerospace announced its plans to build a facility at the Houston Spaceport — with 10,000 square feet dedicated to startup acceleration. Image via collinsaerospace.com

Newly announced Houston Spaceport project to include a startup incubator

one small step for man

A major aerospace company recently announced its new campus at the Houston Spaceport — and the company is dedicating a chunk of the new space to startups.

Collins Aerospace — a Charlotte, North Carolina-based company owned by Raytheon Technologies — announced its plans to build a new eight-acre, 120,000-square-foot campus for human space-related activity. And of that new campus, 10,000 square feet will be dedicated to an incubator supporting aerospace startups.

The city of Houston approved the deal last week, and the company will receive up to $25.6 million in financing from Houston Airports for capital improvements, according to a news release.

"Collins Aerospace's new campus is yet another a game-changer for Houston as we position our region as one of the country's leading next-generation tech and aerospace hubs," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says in a statement. "We are leveraging Houston's many advantages, including our dynamic workforce, to fuel the future of aerospace— a potentially trillion-dollar, 21st-century commercial space economy."

At a recent virtual event for Houston Tech Rodeo, Jimmy Spence, senior business development specialist at the Houston Spaceport, says the campus will be space flight focused and even include manufacturing of communication parts. It's be a project that's been a long time coming, he says.

"We want to provide the space — no pun intended — for these companies that are starting, to get their feet under them, to collaborate with the folks who can help them out and really get them going," he says at the event.

It's not the first time Collins Aerospace has expanded in Houston. The company's West Houston office is reportedly at capacity.

"On behalf of Collins Aerospace, I would like to thank the City of Houston, Houston Airports and Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership for creating a robust business climate and for their strong support of this important expansion of our business," says Phil Jasper, president of Collins Aerospace's Mission Systems business unit, says in the release. "Building on our 40 years in the Houston community, this expansion will further strengthen collaboration with our customer to support spaceflight."

The new space, including the incubator, will allow for Collins Aerospace — and other corporate Houston Spaceport partners — to engage with startups and educational institutions to advance innovation.

"Collins Aerospace is a great fit at Houston Spaceport," Houston Airports Director Mario Diaz says in the release. "The partnership is a key element to realizing the importance of Houston Spaceport — a center for collaboration and innovation where the brightest minds in the world can lead us beyond the next frontier of space exploration."

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Houston biopharma company launches equity crowdfunding campaign

money moves

A clinical-stage company headquartered in Houston has opened an online funding campaign.

FibroBiologics, which is developing fibroblast cell-based therapeutics for chronic diseases, launched a campaign with equity crowdfunding platform StartEngine. The platform lets anyone — regardless of their net worth or income level — to invest in securities issued by startups.

The funding, according to a press release, will be used to support ongoing operations of Fibrobiologics and advance its clinical programs in multiple sclerosis, degenerative disc disease, wound care, extension of life, and cancer.

"We're excited to partner with StartEngine on this campaign. StartEngine has over 600,000 investors as part of their community and has raised over half a billion dollars for its clients," says FibroBiologics' Founder and CEO Pete O'Heeron, in the release.

"This is an exciting time at FibroBiologics as we continue progressing our clinical pipeline and developing innovative therapies to treat chronic diseases," he continues. "This new funding will fuel our growth in the lab and bring us one step closer to commercialization."

The campaign, launched this week, already has over 100 investors, at the time of publication, and has raised nearly $2 million, according to the page. The minimum investment is set at around $500, and the company's indicated valuation is $252.57 million.

In 2021, FibroBiologics announced its intention of going public. Last year, O'Heeron told InnovationMap on the Houston Innovators Podcast of the company's growth plans as well as the specifics of the technology.

Only two types of cells — stem cells and fibroblasts — can be used in cell therapy for a regenerative treatment, which is when specialists take healthy cells from a patient and inject them into a part of the body that needs it the most. As O'Heeron explains in the podcast, fibroblasts can do it more effectively and cheaper than stem cells.

"(Fibroblasts) can essentially do everything a stem cell can do, only they can do it better," says O'Heeron. "We've done tests in the lab and we've seen them outperform stem cells by a low of 50 percent to a high of about 220 percent on different disease paths."


Texas ranks as a top state for female entrepreneurs

women in business

Texas dropped three spots in Merchant Maverick’s annual ranking of the top 10 states for women-led startups.

The Lone Star State landed at No. 5 thanks in part to its robust venture capital environment for women entrepreneurs. Last year, Texas ranked second, up from its No. 6 showing in 2021.

Merchant Maverick, a product comparison site for small businesses, says Texas “boasts the strongest venture capital scene” for women entrepreneurs outside California and the Northeast. The state ranked fourth in that category, with $6.5 billion invested in the past five years.

Other factors favoring Texas include:

  • Women solely lead 22 percent of all employees working for a business in Texas (No. 4).
  • Texas lacks a state income tax (tied for No. 1).

However, Texas didn’t fare well in terms of the unemployment rate (No. 36) and the rate of business ownership by women (No. 29). Other Texas data includes:

  • Average income for women business owners, $52,059 (No. 19).
  • Early startup survival rate, 81.9 percent (No. 18).

Appearing ahead of Texas in the 2023 ranking are No. 1 Colorado, No. 2 Washington, No. 3 California, and No. 4 Arizona.

Another recent ranking, this one from NorthOne, an online bank catering to small businesses, puts Texas at No. 7 among the 10 best states for women entrepreneurs.

NorthOne says Texas provides “a ton of opportunities” for woman entrepreneurs. For instance, it notches one of the highest numbers of women-owned businesses in the country at 1.4 million, 2.1 percent of which have at least 500 employees.

In this study, Texas is preceded by Colorado at No. 1, Nevada at No. 2, Virginia at No. 3, Maryland at No. 4, Florida at No. 5, and New Mexico at No. 6. The rankings are based on eight metrics, including the percentage of woman-owned businesses and the percentage of women-owned businesses with at least 500 employees.