NASA and Axiom Space have signed a mission order for the third private astronaut mission to the International Space Station, targeted to launch no earlier than November 2023 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Axiom Mission 3 (Ax-3) is expected to spend 14 days docked to the space station.
Speaking about the deal, Phil McAlister, director of commercial space at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said: “The diversity of currently available commercial orbital human spaceflight opportunities is truly astounding. NASA’s commercial crew flights to the space station for our government astronauts paved the way for fully private missions to space like Inspiration4 and Polaris as well as private astronaut missions to the orbiting laboratory like the one we are announcing today. We are starting to see the incorporation of space into our economic sphere, and it is going to revolutionise the way people see, use, and experience space.”
NASA and Axiom Space mission planners will coordinate in-orbit activities for the private astronauts to conduct in coordination with space station crew members and flight controllers on the ground.
Michael Suffredini, CEO and president of Axiom Space, added: “Axiom Space’s selection to lead the next private astronaut mission to the International Space Station enables us to continue expanding access to nations, academia, commercial entities, and emerging industries to research, test, and demonstrate new technologies in microgravity. As NASA’s focus shifts back to the Moon and on to Mars, we are committed to transforming low-Earth orbit into a global space marketplace, where access to space moves beyond the partners of the space station to nations, institutions and individuals with new ideas fueling a thriving human economy beyond Earth.”
Axiom Space will submit four proposed crew members and two back up crew for the Ax-3 mission to the station’s Multilateral Crew Operations Panel for review.
The Ax-3 crew members will train for their flight with NASA, international partners, and SpaceX, which Axiom Space has contracted as a launch provider for transportation to and from the space station and to familiarise the private astronauts with systems, procedures, and emergency preparedness for the space station and the Dragon spacecraft. Based on current mission planning, team crew training is scheduled to begin this spring.
Axiom Space is obtaining NASA services to conduct the mission via both the mission-specific order and Reimbursable Space Act Agreements. Through the mission-specific order, Axiom Space is obtaining services from NASA such as crew supplies, cargo delivery to space, storage, and other in-orbit resources for daily use. The order also accommodates up to an additional contingency week aboard the space station.
The order also identifies capabilities NASA may obtain from Axiom Space, including the return of scientific samples that must be kept cold in transit to and from Earth, return cargo capability, and the capability to use the private astronaut mission commander’s time during the docked mission to complete NASA science or perform tasks for NASA.