Axiom Gets Date For Ax-2, First Axiom Station Module on Track for 2025

Axiom Gets Date For Ax-2, First Axiom Station Module on Track for 2025

Axiom Space, SpaceX and NASA have announced that the next private astronaut mission to the International Space Station will launch on May 8, 2023. The crew includes two Saudi astronauts, including the first Arab woman in space. These missions to the ISS are just the beginning of Axiom’s entry into what it expects to become a robust commercial low Earth orbit economy with its own space station providing services to NASA and other customers. Earth orbit is not the limit of Axiom’s aspirations, either. It is developing the spacesuits NASA astronauts will wear on the surface of the Moon.

On Thursday, Axiom’s President and CEO Mike Suffredini held a media teleconference along with SpaceX and NASA partners to provide an update on the next private astronaut mission to the ISS and the company’s progress building Axiom Station.

Suffredini is a former NASA ISS program manager. He left the agency in 2015 and founded Axiom Space with Kam Ghaffarian. Today it has arrangements with SpaceX to launch astronauts to the ISS on Crew Dragon spacecraft and with NASA for those missions as well Axiom Station and building lunar spacesuits for the Artemis program.

Axiom Space’s lunar spacesuit prototype. Credit: Axiom Space

Axiom revealed a prototype of the lunar spacesuit last month, although it’ll actually be white, not black. The dark fabric on the prototype hides proprietary aspects of the design.

This week the focus was Earth orbit.

Axiom’s Suffredini and Peggy Whitson, NASA’s Joel Montalbano and Angela Hart, SpaceX’s Sarah Walker, and the Saudi Space Agency’s Mishaal Ashemimry briefed reporters on the upcoming mission and future Axiom plans.

Axiom-2, or Ax-2, will launch on May 8, 2023 at 10:43 pm ET. If launch takes place as scheduled, it will take 37 hours to reach the ISS, arriving on May 10 at 11:40 am ET. SpaceX’s Walker said that if they have to wait until the next day to launch, due to the vagaries of orbital dynamics, they will still dock at the same time.

Crew Dragons are reusable and this will be the second flight of Crew Dragon Freedom. Aboard will be Whitson, a record-breaking former NASA astronaut who will command the mission, John Shoffner, a race car driver as pilot, and two astronauts from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi, as mission specialists. Barnawi will be the first Arab woman to fly in space.

They will spend 10 days on the ISS conducting scientific experiments and enjoying the experience. At least that’s the plan. Last year the Ax-1 crew ended up staying on the space station many days longer than expected because of bad weather around Florida, where Crew Dragon splashes down.

The Ax-2 astronauts will join the seven-person ISS crew already there, which includes United Arab Emirates astronaut Sultan Alneyadi. He is there for a six-month mission courtesy of another arrangement Axiom made with NASA. The details have never been revealed, but NASA, Axiom and Roscosmos cut a deal for NASA’s Mark Vande Hei to fly to ISS on a Soyuz spacecraft after NASA’s contract with Roscosmos had expired, but before the new seat-swap agreement was in place, with Axiom somehow compensating the Russians.

Very few Arabs have been to space throughout the history of the space program, but when Ax-2 launches, three will be in orbit at the same time. NASA launched the first Arab, Saudi Arabia’s Sultan bin Salman Al Saud, on the space shuttle in 1985. Russia launched Syrian cosmonaut Muhammed Faris to the Mir space station in 1987 and the UAE’s Hazzaa Al Mansouri to the ISS in 2019. Now Alneyadi, Alqarni and Barawi are joining the list all at once.

The ISS has been permanently occupied by international crews since November 2000. The first module was launched in 1998. ISS is getting old and the ISS partners — the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and Europe — know it won’t last forever. NASA plans to keep it operating until 2030 with the hope and expectation that commercial space stations will be ready by then where it can buy services on an as-needed basis as just one of many customers.

Illustration of free-flying Axiom Station. Credit: Axiom Space

Several companies have plans to build commercial space stations in low Earth orbit — “commercial LEO destinations” — and Axiom is one of them. Unlike the others, Axiom Station will build out from the ISS itself, with the modules docking first to ISS and later detaching to become a free-flying space station.

Suffredini said on Thursday that the modules’ systems are being designed and assembled in Houston, while the shells are built by Thales Alenia Space in Italy. The main sections of the first module are being welded together in Italy right now “and we expect delivery early next year” to Houston, leading to launch in 2025. The second module will launch in 2026 and those two together can accommodate up to eight crew members. They will have two docking ports plus berthing ports. The third module, dedicated to research and on-orbit manufacturing, will launch in 2026 or 2027 and the final module, for power and thermal control, about one year before ISS is retired, whenever that is.

In the meantime, more private astronaut flights to ISS are in the works. Axiom and NASA already have an agreement for Ax-3 and Suffredini said the goal is two flights per year until the first Axiom Station module arrives. After that “we’ll increase our tempo a little bit based on customer demand.” Axiom reimburses NASA for access to ISS based on NASA’s ISS pricing policy.

Axiom Space President and CEO Mike Suffredini. Credit: Axiom Space

The company already has plans to launch astronauts from Italy, Turkey, and Hungary and “we’re about to add two more countries to that list,” just part of what Suffredini sees as a “global marketplace.”

We think it’s very important that we have the largest community of countries that explore beyond low Earth orbit, and you start by cooperating together in low Earth orbit. So we think what we’re doing is not only serving the market, but more importantly it’s helping us as a species to learn to live off the planet.



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