Science

Axiom Space: Building the economy off Earth

Axiom Space wants to take the off-Earth economy to new heights.

The Houston-based company, founded in 2016, aims to build and operate its own space station in low Earth orbit (LEO) in the next few years. And Axiom has signed deals with SpaceX to fly multiple sightseeing missions to the International Space Station (ISS), the first of which is set to launch in late February 2022.

Such projects are part of a larger plan to help humanity extend its footprint beyond its home planet.

“Axiom’s vision of a thriving home in space is about facilitating 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,” reads the company’s website.

Related: Private space stations are coming. Will they be better than their predecessors?

Axiom Space: Veterans of Human Spaceflight

A group of high-profile aerospace professionals are crafting that vision and working to make it a reality. For example, the co-founder, president, and CEO of Axiom is Mike Suffredini, who served as NASA’s ISS program manager from 2005 to 2015.

Axiom co-founder and CEO Kam Ghaffarian also co-founded Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies, a contractor that trains NASA astronauts and other agency personnel working on the ISS program.

Additionally, former space shuttle 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.

Construction of a private Axiom space station

An artist’s illustration of the space station that the Houston-based company Axiom Space plans to build in Earth orbit. (Image credit: Axiom Space)

Axiom is taking a phased approach to operating its commercial space station. The company will launch multiple modules to the ISS; this private hardware will eventually break off and become a free flight outpost.

The first of these Axiom pieces is scheduled to be installed in September 2024. Three additional 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 ability to be independent of the ISS and can then be separated to become a next-generation stand-alone space station with upgraded crew accommodations, increased payload capacity and a research lab.” and dedicated manufacturing module,” Axiom CTO Matt Ondler recently told Space.com.

“This timeline supports the current planned end of life for the ISS, so there should be a seamless transition with no disruption to continued human presence on LEO,” he said.

Although the ISS is officially approved to operate only until the end of 2024, an extension to 2030 is expected. President Joe Biden recently committed to this new timeline, but the other partners of the ISS, for example, the European Space Agency , the Canadian Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Russia’s federal space corporation, Roscosmos, must also sign.

Axiom Station and other advanced trading posts in LEO, with others in the works, should create new opportunities for microgravity research, product development, tourism and manufacturing, among other activities, Ondler said.

“A commercial space station also offers cost-saving opportunities for agencies like NASA to conduct critical space science research and prepare astronauts for longer missions to the moon and Mars, without the financial burden of maintaining a LEO station.” , He said.

Related: Weightlessness and its effects on astronauts

Axiom Space: also astronaut missions

However, Axiom doesn’t plan to wait until 2024 to get to space. The company has already booked four astronaut missions to the ISS aboard SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets and Crew Dragon capsules, with the first, known as Ax-1, scheduled to take off on February 28.

The eight-day Ax-1 mission will be commanded by López-Alegría. He will fly with three paying customers, each of whom paid $55 million for the experience and has undergone extensive training with Axiom: American Larry Connor, Canadian Mark Pathy and Israeli Eytan Stibbe.

Ax-1 will be the first fully private manned mission to the ISS, but not the first fully private orbital excursion. That honor goes to SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission, which sent billionaire businessman 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 manned flight, Ax-2. To date, Axiom has revealed the name of only one of its three crewmates: American racer, pilot and investor John Shoffner. Ax-2 will launch between fall 2022 and spring 2023, and is expected to spend no more than 14 days in the air.

NASA has given the green light to both Ax-1 and Ax-2. The other two missions, Ax-3 and Ax-4, have yet to get the agency’s official stamp of approval, but there’s little reason to doubt that will happen as their launch dates near. After all, NASA has repeatedly emphasized that LEO’s commercialization is a key agency priority.

Axiom also has other projects in the works. For example, the company is developing its own spacesuits, which will be able to help astronauts during spacewalks. Axiom aims to have the suits ready by 2024 and make them available to potential customers like NASA. The company also plans to use the suits on its own space station construction missions.

Axiom also offers advice and services to nations wishing to develop a 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 foundations of a successful indigenous human spaceflight program,” the site states. company website.

Additional Resources

You can learn more about Axiom and its plans on the company’s website.

As noted above, Axiom Station isn’t the only private orbiting outpost currently in the works. For example, teams led by Northop Grumman, Blue Origin, and Nanoracks are developing their own LEO stations, all of which aim to be operational by the late 2020s or so. You can read more about each of these projects in our main article and through the companies. Northrop Grumman has a description of their team’s plans here, Blue Origin and Sierra Space describe their “Orbital Reef” concept here, and Nanoracks presents their plans for the “Starlab” station here.

Those three teams are splitting $415 million in NASA money to develop their concepts. To learn more about how NASA is working to stimulate the orbital economy, visit the agency’s Low Earth Economy website.

Bibliography

  • Harland, David M., “Space Station”, Britannica.com. https://www.britannica.com/technology/space-station
  • ISS National Laboratory, “The History and Chronology 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 “Out There” (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.

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