Axiom Space, a start-up based in Houston, Texas, and SpaceX (opens in new tab) are teaming up to launch a team of four private astronauts to the International Space Station (opens in new tab) as early as next year.
The companies have signed a deal in which SpaceX will fly three private astronauts and an Axiom-trained mission commander to the space station, Axiom announced today (March 5). This 10-day mission is set to launch in the second half of 2021, Axiom said in a statement (opens in new tab).
The trip will include at least eight days on the International Space Station and two days of travel time to and from the orbiting laboratory, Axiom added.
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The private spaceflight will also include "training, mission planning, hardware development, life support, medical support, crew provisions, hardware and safety certifications, on-orbit operations and overall mission management," according to Axiom's statement.
This is not the first time that tourists have flown to the space station. However, as Axiom said in the statement, it will be "the first-ever fully private" trip to the station.
"This history-making flight will represent a watershed moment in the march toward universal and routine access to space," Axiom CEO Michael Suffredini said in the statement. "This will be just the first of many missions to ISS to be completely crewed and managed by Axiom Space – a first for a commercial entity."
Axiom Space did not release details on how much the company will pay SpaceX to fly its four-person crew to the International Space Station. In the past, however, the company has said such a flight for space tourists would cost about $55 million per seat (opens in new tab), with much of that cost likely going to SpaceX for the launch vehicle and Crew Dragon spacecraft. Last year, NASA opened a path for commercial trips to the space station, saying it would charge $35,000 per person per day (opens in new tab) for private stays on the orbiting lab.
The company also did not release details on who will be flying on the mission, but did say its commander "will be trained by Axiom to the level of a NASA astronaut in order to qualify to serve as the commander," company spokesperson Beau Holder said via email.
Holder also said Axiom's flight will not be a science-focused mission, but will be run by the company.
"This is an Axiom crew which will be selected and trained by Axiom, with SpaceX being a transportation provider from whom we are procuring services for an Axiom mission," Holder told Space.com.
Axiom aims to offer both professional and private flights to the space station going forward. The company hopes to fly up to two of these missions per year as flight opportunities become available.
"Now, thanks to Axiom and their support from NASA, privately crewed missions will have unprecedented access to the space station, furthering the commercialization of space and helping usher in a new era of human exploration," SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell, added in the statement.
SpaceX also has its own plans for space tourism and private astronaut flights.
Last month, the company struck a deal with Space Adventures, a company that has flown seven space tourists to the International Space Station over the years, to fly up to four passengers on a five-day trip to orbit Earth. That flight, which would not visit the space station, could launch as early as late 2021, too.
Axiom's SpaceX mission to the space station is just the vanguard for the company's commercial spaceflight plans.
Earlier this year, NASA announced that Axiom Space will add a private module to the space station (opens in new tab) to push forward commercial spaceflight.
The initial flight with SpaceX (and others that follow) are part of a two-step process "to build and serve the market for access to LEO," Holder added, using an acronym for low Earth orbit.
"These flights, along with helping to grow and serve the demand for access to LEO in the near term, will give our operational procedures formal testing to prepare for when we begin managing flights to our own modules," Holder said.
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