Axiom Space wants to take the extraterrestrial economy to new heights.
The Houston-based company, which was founded in 2016, aims to build and operate its own space station in low Earth orbit (LEO) in the coming years. And Axiom has signed agreements with SpaceX to carry out several tourist missions in the international space station (ISS), the first of which should be launched at the end of February 2022.
Such projects are part of a larger plan to help humanity expand its footprint beyond its home planet.
“Axiom’s vision of a thriving home in space is to facilitate breakthroughs and insights that benefit all humans, everywhere – and we provide universal access to low Earth orbit so that innovators, governments and individuals can do the same”, the company’s website reads.
Related: Private space stations are coming. Will they be better than their predecessors?
Axiom Space: veterans of manned spaceflight
A host of top aerospace professionals are crafting this vision and working to make it a reality. For example, Axiom’s co-founder, president, and CEO is Mike Suffredini, who served as NASA’s ISS program director from 2005 to 2015.
Axiom co-founder and executive chairman Kam Ghaffarian also co-founded Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies, a contractor that trains NASA astronauts and other agency personnel who work in the ISS program.
Moreover, the old spaceship Commander Charlie Bolden, who led NASA from 2009 to 2017, is a business development consultant for Axiom. And former NASA astronauts Michael López-Alegría and Peggy Whitson serve as the company’s vice president of business development and astronaut consultant, respectively.
López-Alegría and Whitson may have retired from NASA, but they’re not done flying, as you’ll see below.
Build an Axiom Private Space Station
Axiom takes a phased approach to the operation of its commercial space station. The company will launch several modules to the ISS; this private material will eventually break away and become a free flight outpost.
The first of these Axiom coins is expected to go up in September 2024. Three more modules will follow by the end of 2027, if all goes according to plan.
“With the delivery of the fourth module, Axiom Station will have the capability to be independent of the ISS and can then separate to become a next-generation independent space station with improved crew quarters, increased payload capacity and a dedicated manufacturing and research lab module,” Matt Ondler, Axiom CTO recently told Space.com.
“This schedule supports the currently planned end of life of the ISS, so there should be a seamless transition with no disruption to the continued human presence in LEO,” he said.
Although the ISS is officially approved to operate only until the end of 2024, an extension until 2030 is widely expected. President Joe Biden recently engaged in this new calendar, but other ISS partners – for example, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Russian federal space company Roscosmos – must also register.
Axiom Station and other trading outposts in LEO – and there are others under construction — is expected to create new opportunities for microgravity research, product development, tourism and manufacturing, among other activities, Ondler said.
“A commercial space station also provides cost-saving opportunities for agencies like NASA to conduct basic space science research and prepare astronauts for longer missions to the Moon and Mars, without the financial burden of maintenance. from a LEO station,” he said.
Related: Weightlessness and its effects on astronauts
Axiom Space: astronaut missions too
However, Axiom does not plan to wait until 2024 to head into space. The company already has booked four astronaut missions to the ISS aboard SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets and Crew Dragon capsules, and the first, known as Ax-1, is scheduled to lift off on February 28.
The eight-day Ax-1 mission will be commanded by López-Alegría. It will fly with three paying customers, each of whom reportedly paid $55 million for the experience and underwent extensive training with Axiom: American Larry Connor, Canadian Mark Pathy and Israeli Eytan Stibbe.
Ax-1 will be the first fully private crewed mission to the ISS, but not the first fully private orbital jaunt. That honor goes to SpaceX inspiration4 mission, which sent billionaire entrepreneur Jared Isaacman and three others on a three-day trip to Earth orbit in September 2021.
Whitson, who has spent more time in space than any other American, will lead Axiom’s second crewed flight, Ax-2. To date, Axiom has revealed the name of only one of its three teammates – American race car driver, driver and investor John Shoffner. Ax-2 will be launched between fall 2022 and spring 2023, and it is not expected to spend more than 14 days at altitude.
NASA has lit both Ax-1 and Ax-2. The other two missions, Ax-3 and Ax-4, have yet to gain official agency approval, but there is little reason to doubt that will happen as their launch dates draw closer. . After all, NASA has repeatedly pointed out that the commercialization of LEO is a key agency priority.
Axiom also has other projects underway. For example, the company is develop their own space suits, which will be able to accompany astronauts on spacewalks. Axiom aims to have the suits ready by 2024 and have them available to potential customers such as NASA. The company also plans to use the suits for its own space station construction missions.
Axiom also offers advice and services to countries wishing to build human spaceflight capability.
“Beyond the mission, Axiom can help organize in-country training infrastructure, strategic engagement with industry, and interrelationships with other government agencies – the fundamentals of a spaceflight program. successful indigenous humans,” the company’s website reads.
You can learn more about Axiom and its projects at the company’s website.
As noted above, Axiom Station isn’t the only private orbital outpost currently under construction. For example, teams led by Northop Grumman, Blue Origin and Nanoracks are developing their own LEO stations, all of which are expected to be operational by the late 2020s or thereabouts. You can read more about each of these projects in our Reporting and through businesses. Northrop Grumman has a description of his team’s plans here, Blue Origin and Sierra Space present their “Orbital Reef” concept here, and Nanoracks lays out its plans for the “Starlab” station here.
These three teams are sharing $415 million in NASA money to develop their concepts. To learn more about how NASA is working to boost the orbital economy, visit the agency’s website Low Earth Economy website.
- Harland, David M., “Space Station”, Britannica.com. https://www.britannica.com/technology/space-station
- ISS National Laboratory, “The History and Timeline of the ISS.” https://www.issnationallab.org/about/iss-timeline/
- Kitmacher, G. et al. “Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space”, Smithsonian Books, 2018. https://www.amazon.com/Space-Stations-Science-Reality-Working/dp/1588346323
- NASA, “Commercial and Marketing Pricing Policy [for private astronaut missions to the ISS].” https://www.nasa.gov/leo-economy/commercial-use/pricing-policy
Mike Wall is the author of “The low(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom Or on Facebook.