NASA has given the go-ahead to another private crewed mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
The agency will work with Axiom Space to find a window for the Houston-based company's second ISS mission, NASA officials said in an update Monday (Dec. 13). That flight, known as Ax-2, is currently scheduled to launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida between fall 2022 and spring 2023.
Axiom has contracted with SpaceX to launch four crewed missions to the ISS using Crew Dragon capsules and Falcon 9 rockets. The first of those flights, Ax-1, is scheduled to launch on Feb. 21, 2022. It will be commanded by Michael Lopez-Alegria, a former NASA astronaut who now works at Axiom. He will be joined by three space tourists, each of whom reportedly paid $55 million to be part of the eight-day mission.
Photos: The first space tourists
Ax-2 will last no more than 14 days and will be commanded by Peggy Whitson, a record-setting former NASA astronaut and current Axiom employee. One of her three crewmates will be auto racer, pilot and investor John Shoffner, Axiom representatives have said. The identity of the other two crewmembers has not yet been disclosed.
All such names are provisional at the moment, however, because NASA has a say in personnel selections. The proposed Ax-1 crewmates, for example, "still are completing final evaluations by NASA and its international partners," agency officials wrote in Monday's update.
NASA and Axiom agreed to terms for the Ax-1 mission this past May. Ax-2 is the first of two additional private crewed missions to the ISS that NASA plans to select based on a call for proposals issued in June.
"Enabling private astronaut missions to the International Space Station is part of the agency's goal to develop a robust low Earth orbit economy where NASA is one of many customers, and the private sector leads the way," agency officials wrote in a press release announcing that call. "This strategy will provide services the government needs at a lower cost, enabling the agency to focus on its Artemis missions to the moon and on to Mars while continuing to use low Earth orbit as a training and proving ground for those deep-space missions."
NASA has not yet selected the second of the two planned missions described in the June announcement, which stipulated that flights must be brokered by American organizations and travel on American spacecraft.
"NASA will gather lessons learned from the first private astronaut flight as well as other applicable station activities and announce a new flight opportunity in the future," agency officials wrote in Monday's update.
Ax-1 will be the third in a string of private visits to the ISS in just a few months. In October, director Klim Shipenko and actor Yulia Peresild journeyed to the orbiting lab aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to film parts of a Russian movie called "The Challenge."
And Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and video producer Yozo Hirano arrived at the ISS on Dec. 8, also aboard a Soyuz, on a 12-day mission organized by Virginia company Space Adventures.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.