A private mission is ready to launch the ISS
WASHINGTON – The first private mission to the International Space Station will be launched this week by an American vehicle to act as the first step in a company’s plans to set up a commercial space station.
Axiom Space aims to launch its Ax-1 mission on the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft from the Kennedy Space Center on April 6, with the Falcon 9 rocket undergoing a steady-fire test on April 4. The crew will spend 10 days in the Dragon spacecraft, Endeavor, with eight ISS docked. There are additional launch opportunities every day until at least April 9th.
Endeavor is led by Michael Lopez-Allegria, an Axiom employee and former NASA astronaut who spent six months on the ISS in 2006-2007. The other three are self-evident clients: Larry Connor, Mark Pathi and Eaton Steebe.
Preparations for the mission, first delayed due to spacecraft preparations at the end of February and then to avoid conflict with the wet launch rehearsal of the space launch system at KSC, are going well, X-1 crew and company officials said in an April 1 briefing. “I can say with zero hesitation that we are ready to fly,” Lopez-Alegria said.
Both in these briefings and during previous events, the company and its customers have gone to great lengths to emphasize that they do not consider themselves tourists. All four plan to conduct various experiments and investigations for organizations in Canada, Israel and the United States.
“I think it’s important to note the differences between space tourists and private astronauts,” said Connor, who will also be the pilot of the spacecraft. Space tourists will receive 10 to 15 hours of training at 5 to 10 minute intervals, a clear reference to the suborbital vehicles operated by Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic.
He considered the Ax-1 crew a private astronaut. “In our case, depending on our role, we’ve trained anywhere from 750 to 1,000 hours,” he said. “In addition, on all the astronauts here, we will conduct 25 different experiments involving 100 hours of research over eight days on the ISS.”
The Ax-1 crew will be predominantly stationed and stationed in the U.S. Will operate in what is known as the operational segment, which includes NASA, European and Japanese modules. The crew will be able to visit the Russian segment “upon invitation” from Roscosmos cosmonauts, said Michael Safredini, president and chief executive of Axiom Space and former NASA ISS program manager.
The mission is a major milestone for Axiom Space, which is preparing to launch a series of missions like the Ax-1 on the ISS, before installing commercial modules there in 2024. That module, and the others attached to it, would allow the company to have a large, potential permanent presence on the ISS and to serve as the hub for a stand-alone commercial space station after the ISS retires.
“What makes this mission so special is that it is fully funded commercially,” Suffredini said. Axiom will compensate NASA for the use of ISS resources but will also be paid by NASA to provide services, such as equipment return and experiments on the Crew Dragon.
Axiom has provided some financial details about the mission, such as the price paid by its three customers, which is rumored to be approximately $ 55 million each. Safredini declined to say whether the Ax-1 mission was beneficial to Axiom Space.
“We are a professional organization. Our goal is to make money for the life of the company or we are not much of a company, ”he said. “Suffice it to say, this is exactly what our original vision for the mission was.”
“Ultimately, this will increase to the point where, when we are flying to our own space station, we will have a little more access,” he added. “We will develop these flights to carry out more professional research work, which will result in space production.”
The Axiom will follow the Ax-1 with the Ax-2, launching in early 2023, and is led by former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson. Axiom has named a client, John Schaffner, who will be the pilot of the vehicle, but does not know who else will be on the mission. The company has an agreement with SpaceX for two additional crew dragon missions on the ISS. With the Ax-4, Suffredini said, Axiom expects four customers to fly on missions as commanders without a commercial astronaut.
All four Ax-1 crew members said they were looking forward to conducting research at the station. Pathi, a Canadian entrepreneur, said: “I hope that I will be able to highlight the value and importance of the available Canadian research and the net worth. “I’m glad to have that opportunity.”