Axiom Space deal will put New Zealand research on the International Space Station

Artist's illustration of the space station that Houston-based company Axiom Space plans to build in Earth orbit.
Artist's illustration of the space station that Houston-based company Axiom Space plans to build in Earth orbit. (Image credit: Axiom Space)

New Zealand has a research ticket to work on the International Space Station.

The country partnered with commercial research company Axiom Space on July 28 to fly experiments on future missions with the Houston-based company.

"We at Axiom Space are pleased to partner with Aotearoa [the original Maori name for New Zealand] to offer new access to space and create opportunities for companies, scientists and researchers," Michael Suffredini, Axiom's president and CEO, said in a July 28 statement (opens in new tab)

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New Zealand will focus on manufacturing and biotechnology on the International Space Station (ISS) as a part of the agreement, which includes research teams from the University of Canterbury and the University of Auckland.

The new memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Axiom appears to be part of the country's ongoing expansion of work in space. In 2021, New Zealand was the 11th country to sign the Artemis Accords, a set of international agreements governing future lunar exploration under NASA's leadership.

New Zealand signed on to the accords, focused on lunar exploration through the Artemis program that aims to put boots on the surface, to discuss space resource management on the moon. (NASA plans to mine moon water to bring down the cost and complication of long-term settlement of the moon.) 

Institutions in New Zealand will use the MOU with Axiom for matters such as drug and vaccine development, along with an artificial intelligence system meant to simplify clinical decision-making, the statement said.

"Initiating development to help manage astronaut health, the tool could help health professionals assess health risks and treatment planning when they are very remote from patient locations, such as those in space or in Antarctica," Axiom and New Zealand officials wrote. "Axiom Space will contribute in-space operational experience to the study, with the New Zealand team providing computational, medical, and human performance expertise."

Axiom Space, founded in 2016, ran the first ever private research mission on the ISS  earlier in 2022. The mission, called Ax-1, flew three paying space tourists and a retired NASA astronaut to the International Space Station on a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.

As the company prepares to launch more missions already approved by NASA, Axiom has ambitious plans to create new structures to attach to the orbital outpost — many of them dedicated to research. When the space station is decommissioned (which is expected to happen in the early 2030s), these structures will collectively detach as a self-sufficient private space station in low Earth orbit. 

Axiom Space's first module is scheduled to reach the space station sometime in late 2024, according to the company's website (opens in new tab).

Prior to New Zealand, Axiom signed similar MOUs with Italy, Hungary, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), including bringing Emirati astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi for the first Arab nation long-duration mission on the ISS in spring 2023.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace