NASA recently selected Houston-based Axiom Space to build the first commercial destination - a "space hotel" that will be a module segment connected to the International Space Station (ISS). This is all part of NASA's Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) initiative, which aims to commercialize space in order to support American-made innovation in the space sector to fulfill their long-term plan to help develop commercial destinations in low-Earth orbit (LEO). The 'Axiom Segment' will be attached, during the second half of 2024, to ISS Node-2 Forward Port. The module could ultimately serve as a space station replacement in the future. It will provide more habitable space to the station. NASA previously announced plans to retire the space station by 2024, Axiom Space aims to finalize the development of their commercial space station by then to ensure a constant human presence in LEO. The CEO of Axiom, Mike Suffredini, said: "When ISS is retired, Axiom Station will complete construction and detach to operate into the future as a free-flying complex for living and working in space – marking humankind’s next stage of LEO settlement."
Building the International Space Station’s successor.— Axiom Space (@Axiom_Space) March 5, 2020
Booking a Crew Dragon mission with @SpaceX for our first flight – the first fully private flight to ISS in history.
This is the commercialization of Low Earth Orbit.https://t.co/QKPlkdfLGz pic.twitter.com/DZEUXFMJy6
Today, Axiom Space announced it booked SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft to launch the first private passengers to the space station. The first mission is scheduled by 2021, it will transport a professional commander and 3 private astronauts trained by Axiom. Duration of the first private space tour to the station will be 8 days, and offer beautiful views of Earth in low Earth orbit. Suffredini announced today:
"This history-making flight will represent a watershed moment in the march toward universal and routine access to space. 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 Space plans to coordinate their missions with NASA under a Space Act Agreement, to establish more private astronaut flights to ISS. They would like to fly two private citizen missions per year. SpaceX has demonstrated reliability to fly cargo to the orbiting laboratory aboard their Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft for nearly a decade. Axiom trusts SpaceX's technology to carry out their missions. This year, the rocket company will conduct their first manned mission that will transport two NASA astronauts to the station in May. SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell stated:
"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. 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."
Commercialization of space is good because it serves as an incentive for private companies to look at the stars, feel inspired to develop new technologies, like reusable spacecraft and space habitats that could support human missions. Today, a space tour is not affordable for the working-class, booking a spaceflight exceeds one million dollars. So, flying to space is truly something that we could only experience in our wildest dreams, but as technology advances and the price of launching mass to space decreases due to spacecraft reusability and space commercialization, we could get closer to the point where spaceflights aren't just accessible for professional astronauts and the super wealthy. Imagine a future where everyone could experience microgravity, conduct research in space, and see beautiful views of Earth!
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.