A second private mission to the International Space Station (ISS) continues to take shape.
Houston-based Axiom Space is organizing the flight, in conjunction with SpaceX called Ax-2, which will send four people to the ISS for about 10 days. The mission will build on the success of the groundbreaking Axiom Ax-1 mission, which launched and landed in April this year.
Ax-2 will launch about a year after its predecessor if all goes according to plan: In an update on Wednesday (August 31), NASA announced that it and Axiom are planning an upcoming mission in the spring of 2023. The update also revealed that the two organizations had signed a “mission order” for the Axe-2, capturing some flight details.
Related: Photos of the Ax-1 mission at the International Space Station
Under the order, “Axiom receives from NASA services such as crew resupply, space cargo delivery, storage, and other in-orbit resources for day-to-day use. The order also provides for an additional week for contingencies aboard the space station,” NASA officials said. posted in update (will open in a new tab).
“The order also defines the capabilities that NASA will receive from Axiom, including the return of scientific samples that must be kept cold in transit back to Earth, the return of the Nitrogen/Oxygen Recharge System (NORS) tank, last-minute return capability. two cargo bags and up to 10 hours of private astronaut mission commander time during a docked mission to complete NASA science studies or perform missions for NASA,” the agency added.
Four Ax-2 astronauts will launch a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and ride the Dragon capsule to and from the space station, just like the Ax-1 crew did. Axiom said former NASA astronaut and current Axiom consultant Peggy Whitson will be the mission commander, with investor John Schoffner coming in second.
Axiom did not reveal the identities of the other two proposed crew members, who would presumably pay clients such as Schoffner. And “suggested” is here a necessary qualifier; NASA and other ISS partners have yet to formally approve Ax-2 crew members. However, this should happen relatively soon; Ax-2 crew training is expected to begin this fall, NASA officials said in an update.
NASA currently requires all private manned missions to the ISS to be commanded by a former agency astronaut. Topor-1 also marked this flag; it was led by Michael López-Alegria, who had flown three Space Shuttle missions and one expedition to the ISS while a member of the NASA astronaut corps.
Axiom missions are part of SpaceX’s expanding portfolio of manned flights. Elon Musk’s company also entered into an agreement with NASA to transport the agency’s astronauts to and from the orbiting laboratory. SpaceX plans to launch the fifth operational mission under this NASA contract, known as Crew-5, in early October.
And there will be more, where it comes from: Also on Wednesday, NASA announced that it has awarded SpaceX $1.4 billion to conduct five additional astronaut missions to the orbiting laboratory, committing the company to the Crew-14 mission.
Mike Wall is the author of Out There (will open in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrations by Carl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (will open in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (will open in a new tab) or on facebook (will open in a new tab).