Governments will be major customers for Axiom Space private astronaut missions in the future

WASHINGTON — Axiom Space says customers for private astronaut missions to the International Space Station are dominated by governments, not individuals.

On a call with reporters Jan. 30, Axiom Space executives said they were “very overloaded with training” the crew for the Ax-2, the company’s second mission to the station, which is tentatively scheduled for launch in May. This includes training at station-related facilities in Japan and Europe, as well as at Johnson Space Center and SpaceX headquarters in California for the Crew Dragon spacecraft that will be used by the mission.

The mission will be led by Peggy Whitson, an Axiom employee and former NASA astronaut, with Axiom customer John Shoffner serving as the pilot. While NASA announced Jan. 20 that ISS partners have approved the full crew of four for Ax-2, neither the agency nor Axiom have yet disclosed the names of the two other people traveling on the mission.

It’s the customer’s decision, said Michael Suffredini, CEO of Axiom. “We’re working hard to meet their needs,” he said, “and they’ve chosen to wait a little while to announce their crew.” “I think in the next week or two there will be an announcement on certain individuals.”

The two are widely believed to be astronauts from Saudi Arabia as part of an agreement the Saudi Space Authority signed with Axiom Space Corporation in September 2022. A NASA official speaking at an advisory committee meeting in November said the Saudi astronaut candidates had begun training for Expedition.

Axiom Space has not announced customers for missions beyond Ax-2, but Suffredini said upcoming missions will primarily have governments, rather than individuals, as customers. He said, “I expect the Ax-3 to be very much a kind of flyby with our professional astronaut,” which would be repeated on the Ax-4. “I think between those two flights, maybe one individual will fly.”

He did not disclose which countries might fly astronauts on those missions, though he later said the Ax-4 might include a country that had previously flown to the station. Axiom Space announced in September an agreement with the Turkish Space Agency to fly a Turkish astronaut on a future Axiom mission but did not disclose a timeline. At the European Space Agency’s ministerial conference in November, Hungary’s foreign minister said his country was working on selecting an astronaut to fly to the International Space Station on the Axiom mission in late 2024 or early 2025.

Axiom still requires formal NASA approval to carry out missions outside Axis 2. NASA asked for proposals in September for two private astronaut missions that will fly between late 2023 and the end of 2024. Suffredini said he expects NASA to announce its plans for those missions soon.

These future missions must comply with requirements NASA announced last August that private astronaut missions be piloted by a former NASA astronaut with flight experience. Axiom had already announced Whitson as the commander of Ax-2, and another former astronaut, Michael Lopez-Alegria, commanded the first private astronaut mission to the station, Ax-1 in April 2022.

While Axiom officials prior to the Ax-1 suggested that later missions might only fly customers, Suffredini said the company had an agreement with NASA about having a professional astronaut on board. “We agree that on short flights, especially with astronauts who are not trained as professional astronauts, this is the correct way to fly,” he said.

He declined to say whether Axiom would hire former NASA astronauts outside of López-Alegria and Whitson for missions beyond the Ax-2. “We will have professional astronauts available for flights that require it.”

During a panel discussion Jan. 31 at the 18th Ilan Ramon International Space Conference in Tel Aviv, Israel, that included all four Ax-1 astronauts, López-Alegria said his chance to fly came after joining Axiom to support its efforts to develop private plane. space station. “When we started looking for clients, they expressed interest that they wanted someone who had been there before, and NASA said the same thing,” he recalls planning the first private astronaut mission. “When we looked around the room, I was the only one who fit that description.”

One of the crewmates on the Ax-1, Mark Pathy, suggested on the panel that López-Alegría would fly again on a private astronaut mission in the future. “We’re all so excited to get back into space. We’re so jealous of Mike that he’s coming back.”

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