Houston-based startup Axiom Space and NASA unveiled more details Monday about the forthcoming Axiom Mission 1 (AX-1), the first fully private human mission to the International Space Station.
The Axiom Mission 1 spaceflight mission will ferry four private astronauts to the International Space Station in January 2022. The eight-day mission will be launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida using a SpaceX Crew Dragon. While in space, the crew will be living and working in the U.S. segment of the ISS.
NASA will be paying Axiom $1.69 million for services associated with the mission, such as transporting supplies to the ISS, though that does not include other reimbursable agreements between the two entities.
There’s a “high degree of confidence in the late January date” for the launch, Axiom CEO Michael Suffredini said.
Axiom in January released the identity of the crew members: Canadian investor Mark Pathy, investor Larry Connor and former Israeli pilot Eytan Stibbe. Leading the crew as mission commander is former NASA astronaut and Axiom Space VP Michael López-Alegría, who has four spaceflights under his belt.
Pathy, Connor and Stibbe will engage in research missions while onboard. Pathy will be collaborating with the Montreal Children’s Hospital and the Canadian Space Agency; Connor, the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic; and Stibbe will conduct scientific experiments coordinated by the Israel Space Agency at the Ministry of Science and Technology.
“Larry and Mark are very serious individuals who are dedicated to being the best they can be in the mold of a NASA astronaut and they’re not interested in being tourists,” López-Alegría said during the media briefing. “They want to do their part to improve humankind.”
To prepare for the mission, the four crew members will go on a “camping trip” in the Alaskan foothills for training in July, López-Alegría said. He will start full-time training around August, with Larry starting in September. The rest of the crew will start in October, with around two-thirds of their time dedicated to ISS-specific training and the rest dedicated to training with SpaceX. The staggered schedule is due to the differing responsibilities between the crew members while onboard. Axiom will be using the same contractor that NASA uses to train its astronauts.
While Suffredini declined to specify how much the private astronauts paid for their space on the flight, he said he “wouldn’t argue with” widely reported figures in the tens of millions. The Washington Post in January reported that the ticket prices came in at $55 million each.
Prices may not always be so high, but Suffredini said that the industry is likely at least a decade away from serious price drops that might make space travel feasible for the average space-goer.
Axiom intends to offer astronaut flights — both private and national — to the International Space Station and eventually its own privately funded space station. While Axiom has “things lined up” for AX-2, AX-3 and AX-4, “like everyone we have to compete for the opportunity,” Suffredini said. The number of missions to the ISS is limited because there are only two docking ports on the ISS, Station deputy manager Dana Weigel added. That suggests that additional stations will be necessary to meet the burgeoning demand for both commercial and scientific space missions.
The company also in January 2020 won a NASA contract to develop and install a commercial module to the Harmony docking port of the ISS as early as 2024.
Phil McAlister, NASA’s director of commercial spaceflight development, said that recent announcements on commercial spaceflights from Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic in addition to the Axiom mission have heralded “a renaissance in U.S. human spaceflight.”
“A lot of times history can feel incremental when you’re in it, but I really feel like we are in it this year. This is a real inflection point with human spaceflight,” he said.