The Houston-based, venture-backed company has signed a contract with SpaceX for a Crew Dragon flight which will transport a commander trained by Axiom along with three private astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
The mission is set to launch in the second half of 2021 and will allow the three-person crew to live on board the ISS for and “experience at least eight days of microgravity and views of the Earth that can only be appreciated in the large, venerable station,” according to a statement from the company.
For company chief executive, Michael Suffredini, the trip is an extension of his previous work as a previous manager of the ISS for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
“This history-making flight will represent a watershed moment in the march toward universal and routine access to space,” Suffredini said 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.”
The trip marks the first of several “precursor missions” to the Space Station under the Space Act Agreement Axiom signed with NASA. Discussions are underway between the agency and the company to establish agreements for other private astronaut missions to the ISS.
Axiom wants to offer passengers two flights per year — aligning with the schedule of opportunities that NASA is making available, while building it works to build its own privately funded space station.
The company has already tapped institutional investors to achieve its goal, with $16 million collected from various individual and institutional investors including Balfour Capital and Starbridge Venture Capital, according to information in Crunchbase.
“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 SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell, in a statement. “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.”
Axiom said it will provide all the training, planning, hardware, life support, medical support, crew provisions, safety certifications and on-orbit operations for travelers willing to take the jump into spaceflight.
And the company was selected by NASA to attach its space station modules to the ISS beginning in the second half of 2024. The goal there is to create a private segment of the space station and extend its usable and habitable volume. When the space station is decommissioned, Axiom wants to detach its segment and operate as a free-flying commercial space station.
For SpaceX, the Axiom deal extends the commercial operations of its Crew Dragon craft beyond just NASA astronauts and offers a nice additional revenue stream.
This is actually the second deal between SpaceX and a commercial manned space tourism company. Last month the company inked an agreement with space Advnetures for a trip that would fly four passengers on a five day trip using a Crew Dragon vehicle.