Science

NASA team up with Axiom Space for SpaceX Crew Dragon and first private astronaut mission to the International Space Station in 2022

NASA and Houston-based aerospace startup Axiom Space have signed an order for Axiom Mission 1 (AX-1), the first fully private human astronaut mission, and a planned SpaceX Crew Dragon mission to the International Space Station, to happen no earlier than January 2022.

Space tourism will increase in the coming months, with both Blue Origin and SpaceX hoping to bring regular citizens into orbit this year. Looking a little further ahead, more private astronaut missions to the International Space Station are in the pipeline, and NASA’s first one could happen as early as January.

NASA and Axiom Space have consented to take civilians to the ISS. Axiom Mission 1 will launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida “no earlier than January 2022,” as indicated by NASA. The four astronauts, who will travel on a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, are scheduled to spend eight days onboard the ISS. They’ll bring back scientific samples for NASA that must be kept in cold storage.

As a feature of Monday’s agreement, Axiom will buy services from NASA for use in the mission, similar to team supplies, cargo delivery, and different resources. NASA will likewise buy from Axiom the ability to return scientific samples to Earth. The current dollar worth of the mission is $1.69 million.

NASA and its international partner agencies need to affirm Axiom’s proposed team, which incorporates a former NASA astronaut and three businessmen. Training should begin this summer.

“We are excited to see more people have access to spaceflight through this first private astronaut mission to the space station,” said Kathy Lueders, associate administrator for human exploration and operations at NASA Headquarters. “One of our original goals with the Commercial Crew Program, and again with our Commercial Low-Earth Orbit Development Program, is that our providers have customers other than NASA to grow a commercial economy in low-Earth orbit.”

The spaceflight, assigned as Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1), will launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and travel to the International Space Station. When docked, the Axiom astronauts are scheduled to spend eight days on board the orbiting laboratory.

NASA and Axiom mission organizers will coordinate in-orbit activities for the private astronauts to lead as a team with space station crew members and flight controllers on the ground.

Axiom will buy services for the mission from NASA, for example, crew supplies, cargo delivery to space, storage, and other in-orbit resources for everyday use. NASA will buy from Axiom the ability to return scientific samples that should be held cold on the way back to Earth.

“The first private crew to visit the International Space Station is a watershed moment in humanity’s expansion of the planet and we are glad to partner with NASA in making it happen,” said Axiom President and CEO Michael Suffredini. “A thriving commercial marketplace in low-Earth orbit begins with expanding access to serious, nontraditional users and that is exactly the aim of our private astronaut missions.”

NASA has opened up the space station for commercial activities, including private astronaut missions, as part of its plan to build up a robust and competitive economy in low-Earth orbit.

The organization’s necessities to achieve that goal –, for example, research on the impacts of the space environment on humans, technology development, and in-flight crew testing – will stay set up after the retirement of the International Space Station.

Commercial entities can meet those issues, giving destinations and transportation abilities. Enabling Ax-1 is an important step to stimulate demand for commercial human spaceflight services so NASA can be one of the numerous clients in low-Earth orbit.

For the Ax-1 mission, Axiom has proposed Michael López-Alegría, Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, and Eytan Stibbe as prime crew members. These private astronauts will be evaluated by NASA and its international partners, as is standard for any space station crew, and go through NASA medical qualification testing to be approved for flight. López-Alegría will serve as the mission commander, with Peggy Whitson and John Shoffner as backups.

The plan for the mission, called Axiom Mission 1 (AX-1), is to send the men into orbit on one of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceships, which have now carried three astronaut crews to the ISS for NASA.

Every one of the four men is paying generally $55 million. NASA is as yet checking on the group, and they should go through medical reviews before the agency approves them.

When the proposed team passes review and qualification, the four members will train for their flight with NASA, international partners, and SpaceX, which Axiom has contracted as launch supplier for transportation to the space station.

Trainers will familiarize the private astronauts with systems, procedures, and emergency preparedness for the space station and the Crew Dragon rocket. In light of current mission planning, training is scheduled to start this mid-year.

The growth and development of the low-Earth orbit economy proceeds. In January 2020, NASA selected Axiom to give at least one habitable commercial module to be joined to the forward port of the International Space Station’s Harmony node in late 2024.

Most recently, NASA declared the agency is looking for a contribution from industry on future commercial low-Earth orbit destinations that will offer services, for example, crew training, scientific research, and advanced systems improvement for both government and private-sector astronauts and customers.

For over 20 years, NASA has supported a continuous U.S. human presence in low-Earth orbit. The agency’s goal is a low-Earth orbit marketplace where NASA is one of the numerous clients, and the private sector leads the way.

This technique will offer services the government needs at a lower cost, empowering the organization to focus on its Artemis missions to the Moon and on to Mars while proceeding to use low-Earth orbit as training and demonstrating ground for those deep space missions.

AX-1 would launch on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Axiom team would remain on the ISS for eight days. If all works out as expected, they will become the first private astronauts to set foot on the orbiting laboratory.

Axiom desires to begin flying private astronauts to the ISS twice per year, however, it might need to go after spots with different organizations and government missions. Eventually, Axiom intends to construct its own orbital station called AxStation. It would begin as a connection to the ISS, at that point separate.

In the interim, NASA has recruited Axiom to work on at least one commercial habitable module that will be joined to the ISS in late 2024.

NASA hopes to bid farewell to the ISS and steer it into the Pacific Ocean in 2030. The agency and Congress both desire to have a commercial option by then.

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