The axiom space is go where no private space company has gone before: the International Space Station. On Monday, February 28, the company detailed the AX-1 mission, the first-ever private mission to the ISS, currently scheduled to launch March 30 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. But Axiom wants to make one thing clear. before you go: AX-1 crew members are private citizens, but they are separate from other private space companies, like Blue Origin or Virgin Galactic.
Axiom Space vice president and former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría put it bluntly: “We are not space tourists.”
The AX-1 Mission: Vital Details
López-Algeria is the commander of the AX-1 mission, which will launch March 30 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. López-Algeria and three other members of crew will head to the International Space Station and spend eight days in the space lab. There they plan to conduct a series of scientific experiments. But for us on Earth, the mission marks a new frontier for the private space industry.
Private citizens have taken trips to the ISS before, but this is the first private space mission that only includes paying customers as crew (and López-Algeria, of course).
The crew includes American real estate investor Larry Connor, former Israeli fighter pilot and businessman Eytan Stibbe and Canadian businessman Mark Pathy. The tickets cost $55 million each.
On board the ISS, crew members will perform at least 25 experiments designed to test the health effects of space travel, space habitat design, self-assembly of spacecraft, and more, a said Christian Maender, director of space research. and manufacturing at Axiom Space.
AX-1: Not just another space tourism getaway
During a press briefing on February 28, López-Alegría tried to separate the AX-1 mission from recent suborbital flights carried out by private companies such as Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic.
“I think space tourism has an important role to play, but that’s not what Axiom is about,” he says.
“It’s definitely not a vacation for them,” he adds, referring to the private crew.
The mission marks a turning point in NASA’s strategy. The US space agency is moving away from a government-funded model of space exploration and innovation only. SpaceX has already transported countless payloads to the ISS, and a number of other companies, including Axiom, are working to develop their own infrastructure for human space exploration, including rockets, spacecraft and even their own full-fledged private space stations.
NASA says it looks forward to more missions involving private astronauts on the ISS. A second Axiom mission, AX-2, is already set to launch later this year or early next year. Details, however, remain scarce at this stage.
For now, the AX-1 mission gives Axiom and NASA a blueprint for future partnerships, said Philip McAllister, director of NASA’s commercial spaceflight division. A key difference in this mission, for example, is that NASA hands over launch control to Axiom Space. It is not until the mission reaches the ISS that NASA will assume any responsibility for the safety of the equipment and the crew.
“Axiom Space is really responsible in large part for the passengers, the crew members, their safety during the ascent and the launch…as well as the return,” he says.
The crew will also have the added responsibility of setting standards for future missions, adds López-Alegría.
“We feel that we are going to be standard bearers. We really want to set the bar very, very high. We are very aware that we will be guests on board the ISS,” he says.
What’s next for the ISS and Axiom Space
Even in space, the spectrum of events on Earth is impossible to ignore. The ISS crew currently includes two Russian cosmonauts, and the ISS itself is divided into two sections: the American orbital segment and the Russian orbital segment.
The ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine has cast serious doubts on the continuation of any orbital partnership between the United States, Europe and Russia. Earlier this month, the head of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency Dmitry Rogozin went so far as to warn of the space station “deorbiting” without warning.
More recently, the European Space Agency acknowledged that its relationship with Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, would change in light of the sanctions imposed on Russia.
Still, NASA personnel say they are confident that the AX-1 mission, as well as NASA’s ongoing missions to the ISS, will go smoothly.
For his part, López-Alegría says the AX-1 crew would be happy to visit the Russian segment, but would likely need an escort if they did. But that’s because they haven’t received any training related to Russian protocols or equipment, he says.
“We have operated in these kinds of situations before and both sides have always acted in a very professional manner and understand at our level the importance of this fantastic mission and the continuation of peaceful relations between the two countries in space,” he said. said Kathy Lueders, the associate administrator. space operations at NASA.