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SpaceX to fly 3 more private astronaut missions to space station for Axiom Space

Michael Lopez-Alegria is assigned to command AX-1 in 2021, the first in a series of commercial missions to the International Space Station that will serve as a precursor to Axiom Space attaching its own modules to the orbital complex.
Michael Lopez-Alegria is assigned to command AX-1 in 2021, the first in a series of commercial missions to the International Space Station that will serve as a precursor to Axiom Space attaching its own modules to the orbital complex. (Image credit: Axiom Space)

SpaceX just added some more private crewed flights to its docket.

Houston-based Axiom Space will fly three additional crewed missions to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule, the two companies announced today (June 2). 

Axiom had already booked one confirmed Crew Dragon flight to the orbiting lab; that mission will launch no earlier than January 2022. And last month, the company revealed that record-setting former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson would command the proposed Ax-2 flight to the station.

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We now know that Ax-2 will fly with SpaceX, as will Ax-3 and Ax-4. All of those missions are expected to launch by 2023, Axiom representatives said. Neither company revealed the financial terms of the contract.

"We are beyond excited to build upon our partnership with Axiom to help make human spaceflight more accessible for more people," SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement. "A new era in human spaceflight is here."

Crew Dragon has already toted astronauts to the space station three times. But each of those flights — known as Demo-2, Crew-1 and Crew-2 — has been conducted for NASA, under a contract SpaceX holds with the agency's Commercial Crew Program.

The four upcoming flights will be just the beginning for Axiom, if all goes according to plan. The company intends to launch a private module to the International Space Station in 2024. By 2028, that module should be ready to detach and fly freely as the base module of a privately owned orbiting outpost, Axiom representatives said. (The ISS is approved to continue operating through December 2024, and an extension to the end of 2028 seems likely.)

"Axiom was founded on a vision of lasting commercial development of space," Axiom president and CEO Michael Suffredini said in the same statement. 

"We are on track to enable that future by managing the first-ever private missions to the ISS as a precursor to our development of the world’s first commercial space station," he added. "SpaceX has blazed the trail with reliable, commercial human launch capability and we are thrilled to partner with them on a truly historic moment."

Ax-1 will be SpaceX's first fully private crewed flight to the station — but not the first crewed orbital launch for Elon Musk's company, if current plans hold. Billionaire Jared Isaacman has booked a Crew Dragon for a flight called Inspiration4, which is scheduled to launch this September. Inspiration4 won't meet up with the space station; Isaacman and his three crewmates will zoom around Earth in the capsule for three days and then come home.

And Ax-1 won't be the first tourist flight to the ISS. From 2001 through 2009, seven paying customers made eight trips to the station on Russian Soyuz spacecraft, on missions organized by Virginia-based company Space Adventures. (Charles Simonyi flew twice.)

Soyuz will carry private citizens to the ISS again — twice by the end of this year, in fact, if all goes according to plan. Russian director Klim Shipenko and actor Yulia Peresild are scheduled to fly up this September, and Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has booked a flight for himself and video producer Yozo Hirano, with liftoff targeted for December.

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 Facebook. 

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Mike Wall
SPACE.COM SENIOR SPACE WRITER — Michael has been writing for Space.com since 2010. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.