SpaceX, Axiom Space sign deal for three private Crew Dragon missions to the ISS

Axiom Space has signed a deal with SpaceX for three additional commercial flights to the International Space Station. The private crews will be launched in SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule that is currently being used by NASA to launch their astronauts. Axiom Space is already preparing for its first private mission - Ax-1 mission - that is scheduled to take place no earlier than January 2022. NASA veteran Michael Lopez-Alegria will be commander of this mission. Three businessmen — Larry Conner, an American, Mark Pathy, a Canadian, and Eytan Stibbe, an Israeli - will join him.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon is the modified version of the Cargo Dragon that SpaceX has been using during its re-supply missions to the ISS.

Last month, Axiom announced that another former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson would command the proposed Ax-2 flight to ISS. She will be joined by champion GT race John Shoffner as the pilot. The names of the rest of the crew have not been announced.

The three other missions might launch in 2023, reported The Verge, however it is tentative. The missions - Ax-2, Ax-3 and Ax-4 - will be conducted six months apart and will all last for around eight days. The actual dates and timings haven't been announced as yet as that is subject to NASA approval. The US space agency and a panel of international partners handle the ISS schedule. Another detail that is unknown is the crew names for the last two missions and the financial agreement struck between the two private aerospace companies.

“We are beyond excited to build upon our partnership with Axiom to help make human spaceflight more accessible for more people,” said SpaceX President & COO Gwynne Shotwell in a statement. “A new era in human spaceflight is here.”

According to the NASA press release, the four crew members will train for their flight with NASA, international partners, and SpaceX. They will be familiarised with the ISS' and the Crew Dragon's systems, procedures, and emergency readiness.

The Crew Dragon capsule has already conducted three previous human spaceflights with NASA astronauts and its partners, as part of SpaceX's contract with the NASA Commercial Crew Program. Ax-1 mission will be Axiom's first all-private crew that will be launched and stay at the orbiting laboratory.

Space tourists

However, this won't be the first time that SpaceX is flying private individuals to space. The Elon Musk space company has already signed a deal with billionaire Jared Isaacman for his Inspiration4 space flight. The billionaire has chosen three lucky winners to be a part of this all-expense-paid journey aboard a Crew Dragon. They won't be staying at the ISS but will be flying around the Earth for three days. The flight has been scheduled to launch this September.

The International Space Station is the only orbiting laboratory that is still in use. However, it will soon be decommissioned in 2024.

The crew for Inspiration4 include college educator Sian Proctor, former Air Force missile man Chris Sembroski and bone cancer survivor Hayley Arceneaux. The capsule will be upgraded and its usual docking mechanism will be changed and a domed window will be added in its place.

According to Space.com, Ax-1 won't be the first private crew to stay at the ISS. The Russian Soyuz rocket has flown seven paying customers, to the ISS, from 2001-2009. They will be flying four more space tourists by the end of the year - Russian director Klim Shipenko and actor Yulia Peresild in September, and Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and video producer Yozo Hirano will launch in December.

Axiom's big plans

The upcoming human space flights are just a precursor for Axiom. It has its eyes set on bigger things. NASA selected the company to provide a private module for the space station in January 2020. It will be a habitable module that will be attached to the forward port of the ISS' Harmony node in late 2024.

By 2028, that module will be able to detach from the ISS and orbit freely as a base module of a privately owned orbiting outpost.

"Axiom was founded on a vision of lasting commercial development of space,” Axiom President & CEO Michael Suffredini said in a statement.

“We are on track to enable that future by managing the first-ever private missions to the ISS as a precursor to our development of the world’s first commercial space station. SpaceX has blazed the trail with reliable, commercial human launch capability and we are thrilled to partner with them on a truly historic moment."



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