British astronauts may soon fly to the International Space Station on a private mission.
The U.K. Space Agency and Houston company Axiom Space have inked a deal to pursue a commercially sponsored mission that could send four U.K. astronauts to orbit. No timeline for the proposed flight has been announced.
The U.K. astronauts would spend up to two weeks in orbit to carry out scientific research, demonstrate new technologies and participate in education and outreach activities, according to an Oct. 27 U.K. Space Agency (UKSA) statement.
Axiom Space has made a name for itself by conducting private missions to the International Space Station (ISS), working deals with NASA for training and partnering with SpaceX for transportation (using its Crew Dragon capsules and Falcon 9 rockets). Axiom is now focusing on working with national space agencies, including UKSA, which is looking to boost interest and investment in space.
"The prospect of a historic U.K. mission with Axiom Space has the potential to inspire a whole new generation to reach for the stars, while supporting our efforts to build one of the most innovative and attractive space economies in the world," George Freeman MP, Minister of State at the U.K.'s Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, said in the statement.
UKSA is also requesting information from universities, research institutions and industry on possible payloads for the mission.
The move also has the backing of ESA. Daniel Neuenschwander, director of human and robotic exploration at ESA, said the agency is working on Europe's preparation for the post-ISS era and the development of a sustainable commercial economy in low Earth orbit.
"This unique flight will allow ESA to enhance its actions with new partnership schemes and implement together with the United Kingdom a series of research experiments, which will further deepen the knowledge on exploration in and for Europe," Neuenschwander said.
ESA and Axiom signed a Memorandum of Understanding earlier this month to explore collaborative opportunities, while Sweden's Marcus Wandt will fly to the ISS on the Axiom 3 (Ax-3) mission, which will launch no earlier than January 2024.
As well as facilitating trips to low Earth orbit, Axiom is also developing its own habitats that will join the ISS but be able to break away and operate independently as a private space station. The company aims to have its first hab launched and docked with ISS in 2026.