SpaceX teams with Axiom for tourist trips to the ISS

DALLAS: The first fully private mission to the International Space Station (ISS) is taking shape as soon as next year under a deal involving Nasa, SpaceX and a Texas company that will sell the mission.

Axiom Space Inc said it has signed an agreement with Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp for a flight of four tourists to the space station, potentially late next year.

The initial trip would last at least eight days, Axiom said Thursday.

The company is targeting two flights annually.

If completed, the voyage would mark a major milestone in Nasa’s push to spur greater commercial use of the space station, which orbits at an altitude of 403km and has had crew working and living there since late 2000.

The Trump administration has been seeking to reduce federal spending on the facility and encourage private enterprise to assume a greater portion of the facility’s capabilities and costs.

“This history-making flight will represent a watershed moment in the march toward universal and routine access to space,” Axiom Chief Executive Officer Michael Suffredini said in a statement.

First flight

The SpaceX-launched flight will be the first by Axiom, which is selling the mission, selecting the four participants and overseeing their training.

The company declined to disclose any pricing for the flights or details of its launch contract.

Axiom, which is based near the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, was founded in 2016 by Suffredini, a former program manager for the space station, and Kam Ghaffarian, an entrepreneur who sells engineering services to Nasa.

Anyone who flies to the station will be approved by Nasa and its ISS partners such as Japan, Russia and Canada; those tourists must undergo certain training to meet agency requirements before the trip.

For the flights, Axiom is talking with countries that want to begin a human spaceflight program and also private people with the resources to afford such a trip.

“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 Gwynne Shotwell said in the statement.

Nasa talks

Axiom also must reach additional agreements with Nasa to allow for the private flights.

Those discussions have begun, a spokeswoman for the space agency said Thursday.

Nasa has determined that the station can accommodate four private astronauts for as long as 30 days, twice a year.

The agency charges roughly US$34,000 a person per day, plus additional fees for electrical and data link costs.

The prices for private astronauts “do not reflect full recovery of Nasa’s costs and may be subject to adjustment,” the agency says in its pricing policy.

Axiom plans to construct a private space station as the ISS moves toward retirement in the late 2020s, first attaching its modules to the existing laboratory before preparing to separate entirely.

The company expects to launch its first hardware to orbit in 2024.

SpaceX built its Crew Dragon vehicle for Nasa’s commercial crew program, which also includes Boeing Co.

The Crew Dragon flew to the station in March 2019 on a test flight without crew.

NASA and SpaceX are preparing for a second flight with two astronauts aboard later this year.

Last month, SpaceX announced a separate deal with a broker to sell as many as four Crew Dragon seats to private tourists.

Boeing executives have also said their CST-100 Starliner spaceship may host private tourists on some flights to the space station.