NASA and Axiom Space sign-on for 4th private astronaut mission to space station

SpaceX's Crew Dragon Endeavour carrying the Ax-1 private astronaut crew for Axiom Space docks at the International Space Station on April 9, 2022.
Crew Dragon for Ax-1 docked with the International Space Station. (Image credit: NASA TV)

NASA and Axiom Space are honing-in on launch dates for the next two private astronaut missions to the International Space Station. 

NASA and Axiom are now targeting no earlier than January for the company's third private astronaut mission, Ax-3, one of the space agency's social media accounts revealed on Twitter. Addressing the delay from a previously announced November 2023 launch date, a follow up statement clarified that "this timeframe allows for teams to collaborate on the integration of the mission's scientific research priorities that continue to expand on what we can learn in low Earth orbit to benefit humanity."

Just over an hour after the Ax-3 announcements, a NASA statement announced a similar mission order had been finalized for Ax-4, with a target launch no earlier than November next year. Both missions will launch to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard SpaceX Crew Dragon capsules on Falcon 9 rockets from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Related: 'It feels amazing!' Private Ax-2 astronauts thrilled by zero gravity and Earth views after SpaceX launch (video)

The Ax-4 deal includes provisions for the crew's roughly two-week stay aboard the ISS, with a contingency supply to accommodate possible delays in their scheduled departure. The return of Axiom's first mission, Ax-1, was delayed several days due to weather conditions at the crew's splashdown site. 

NASA and Axiom's agreements also arranges for the private astronauts to handle science investigation equipment, and stow experiments aboard their Dragon spacecraft for return, as needed by NASA. 

Specific launch dates for Ax-3 and Ax-4 are still undetermined, and are largely dependent on other traffic at the space station. Private astronauts flying to space on Axiom's missions undergo training with NASA, SpaceX and other partners as is necessary in preparation for their flight. The crew for Ax-4 has yet to be selected by Axiom, or approved by NASA. Once Ax-4's primary crew is finalized, they are slated begin similar training.

Axiom is the first company to conduct privately-crewed missions to the ISS, and represents a shift in NASA's approach to low Earth orbit (LEO) research. "NASA has been directed to develop commercial platforms to sustain a continuous United States presence in low Earth orbit and to transition beyond International Space Station operations," NASA's director of commercial space, Phil McAlister said in the statement. "These private astronaut missions are helping to pave the way for that transition." 

Echoing the same, Axiom president and CEO Michael Suffredini said that each of these missions will help Axiom Space prepare their teams for a private orbital station to follow the International Space Station after its retirement. 

"These missions are instrumental in expanding commercial space activities and access to space for individuals and nations around the world, as well as developing the knowledge and experience needed to normalize living and working in microgravity," Suffredini said.

Axiom Space's first mission, Ax-1, launched on April 8, 2022 carrying the first all-private crew to the International Space Station. Ax-2 followed just over a year later in May 2023.

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Josh Dinner
Writer, Content Manager

Josh Dinner is's Content Manager. He is a writer and photographer with a passion for science and space exploration, and has been working the space beat since 2016. Josh has covered the evolution of NASA's commercial spaceflight partnerships, from early Dragon and Cygnus cargo missions to the ongoing development and launches of crewed missions from the Space Coast, as well as NASA science missions and more. He also enjoys building 1:144 scale models of rockets and human-flown spacecraft. Find some of Josh's launch photography on Instagram and his website, and follow him on Twitter, where he mostly posts in haiku.