Axiom Space, a company that plans to manufacture a commercial outpost in space, released a statement on Thursday that announced the fact that it signed a contract with the famed SpaceX to transport an astronaut and three other passengers to the International Space Station (ISS) next year on the first fully-human crewed spaceflight to Earth‘s orbit.
Regular Flights to the ISS Could Become Common
The private crew members will stay for eight days on the orbit research laboratory, enabling them to experience ‘microgravity and views of Earth that can only be fully appreciated in the large, venerable station,’ as per the statement released by Axiom.
“This history-making flight will represent a watershed moment in the march toward universal and routine access to space,” said Michael Suffredini, Axiom’s CEO, in a statement. “This will be just the first of many missions to ISS to be completely crewed and managed by Axiom Space — a first for a commercial entity. Procuring the transportation marks significant progress toward that goal, and we’re glad to be working with SpaceX in this effort.”
Axiom says it intends to provide additional flights to the ISS for professional and private astronauts via a Space Act Agreement with NASA, which is waiting for Axiom and other private companies to create a commercial market for human spaceflight in low Earth orbit after the ISS retires.
According to the company, the flight possibilities managed by Axiom could occur as often as two times per year. Self-funded passengers to date have visited the space station on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft and Boeing‘s Starliner capsule are the only American vehicles presumed to transport commercial crews to the ISS in the next years. Both spacecraft were designed in collaboration with NASA, which has contracts with both companies to build the Crew Dragon and Starliner capsules and transport astronauts to the space lab.
The Crew Dragon and Starliner capsules will help NASA out of its dependence on Russian Soyuz crew ships for astronaut transportation to and from the ISS. The Soyuz has been the only vehicle able to fly crews to and from the space station since NASA’s space shuttles program closed off in 2011.
The Crew Dragon Capsule is Ready to Fly
SpaceX is preparing for the first Crew Dragon test flight with astronauts on-board that will take place this year. The mission, dubbed Demo-2, will launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in May, after an unpiloted Crew Dragon test flight to the ISS in March of 2019.
NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken will be transported to the ISS on-board of the Crew Dragon. If the test is a success, the Crew Dragon will be approved for regular crew rotation transports to the space station for about seven months. The Crew Dragon is created to accommodate up to four people on take-off and landing.
“Since 2012, SpaceX has been delivering cargo to the International Space Station in partnership with NASA, and later this year, we will fly NASA astronauts for the first time,” said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating. “Now, thanks to Axiom and their support from NASA, privately crewed missions will have unprecedented access to the space station, furthering the commercialization of space and helping usher in a new era of human exploration.”
Boeing’s Starliner capsule, meanwhile, was not able to dock with the ISS on its first unpiloted demo flight in December of 2019. Boeing and NASA engineers are examining the vehicle’s software after the spacecraft suffered numerous faults and issues during its mission, which ended up in an early landing after failing to get to the space lab.
Officials have not mentioned when the Starliner spacecraft could be ready for a test flight with astronauts, or whether NASA will ask Boeing to carry out another unpiloted demo mission before proceeding with the crewed expedition.