On Tuesday March 14th, NASA announced that it had signed a mission order with Axiom Space for the third private astronaut mission to the International Space Station, targeted to launch no earlier than November 2023 from the agency’s NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Axiom Mission 3 (Ax-3) is expected to spend 14 days docked to the space station. A specific launch date is dependent on spacecraft traffic to the space station and in-orbit activity planning and constraints. NASA and Axiom Space mission planners will coordinate in-orbit activities for the private astronauts to conduct in coordination with space station crew members and flight controllers on the ground.
Axiom Space will submit four proposed crew members and two back up crew for the Ax-3 mission to the station’s Multilateral Crew Operations Panel for review. NASA is requiring all private astronaut mission providers to select a previously flown NASA astronaut as the spacecraft commander. Following review and approval from NASA and its international partners, the prime crew members for the mission will be named.
The diversity of commercial orbital human spaceflight opportunities is astounding.Phil McAlister, director of commercial space at NASA
“NASA’s commercial crew flights to the space station for our government astronauts paved the way for fully private missions to space like Inspiration4 and Polaris as well as private astronaut missions to the orbiting laboratory like the one we are announcing today,” said Phil McAlister, director of commercial space at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We are starting to see the incorporation of space into our economic sphere, and it is going to revolutionize the way people see, use, and experience space.”
The Ax-3 crew members will train for their flight with NASA, international partners, and SpaceX, which Axiom Space has contracted as launch provider for transportation to and from the space station and to familiarize the private astronauts with systems, procedures, and emergency preparedness for the space station and the Dragon spacecraft. Based on current mission planning, team crew training is scheduled to begin this spring.
“Axiom Space’s selection to lead the next private astronaut mission to the International Space Station enables us to continue expanding access to nations, academia, commercial entities, and emerging industries to research, test, and demonstrate new technologies in microgravity,” said Michael Suffredini, CEO and president of Axiom Space. “As NASA’s focus shifts back to the Moon and on to Mars, we are committed to transforming low-Earth orbit into a global space marketplace, where access to space moves beyond the partners of the space station to nations, institutions and individuals with new ideas fueling a thriving human economy beyond Earth.”
Axiom Space is obtaining NASA services to conduct the mission via both the mission specific order and Reimbursable Space Act Agreements. Through the mission specific order, Axiom Space is obtaining services from NASA such as crew supplies, cargo delivery to space, storage, and other in-orbit resources for daily use. The order also accommodates up to an additional contingency week aboard the space station. This mission is subject to NASA’s pricing policy for the services the agency is providing to Axiom Space for in-orbit activities that are above space station baseline capabilities.
The order also identifies capabilities NASA may obtain from Axiom Space, including the return of scientific samples that must be kept cold in transit to and from Earth, return cargo capability, and the capability to use the private astronaut mission commander’s time during the docked mission to complete NASA science or perform tasks for NASA.
Through Reimbursable Space Act Agreements, Axiom Space will reimburse NASA for services to enable the mission, such as training for crew members and use of facilities at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and Kennedy Space Center in Florida. In addition, SpaceX has a Reimbursable Space Act Agreement with Kennedy for launch services.
NASA made the selection for the third private astronaut mission from proposals received in response to its September 2022 NASA Research Announcement and evaluated the mission proposals based on the provider’s ability to execute a mission successfully, NASA’s ability to support the proposed mission, and the mission’s contribution to the agency’s goal of low-Earth orbit commercialization. NASA also solicited proposals for a fourth private astronaut mission opportunity in 2024 and will announce the mission after successful completion of negotiations results in an award.
For more than 22 years, NASA has supported a continuous US human presence in low-Earth orbit. The agency’s goal is a low-Earth orbit marketplace where NASA is one of many customers, and the private sector leads the way. This strategy will provide services the government needs at a lower cost, enabling the agency to focus on its Artemis missions to the Moon and on to Mars while continuing to use low-Earth orbit as a training and proving ground for those deep space missions.
NASA also presented the new spacesuits, ordered from Axiom Space, with which its astronauts of the Artemis III mission will venture to the surface of the Moon’s south pole. According to BBC, spacesuits worn by US astronauts have not been completely redesigned since 1981. Named the Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit (AxEMU), the spacesuit is based on NASA’s spacesuit prototype developments and incorporates the latest technology, enhanced mobility and additional protection against hazards on the Moon.
Although this prototype uses a dark gray cover material-the final version will likely be completely white when worn by astronauts on the Moon-the space agency’s experts defined the technical and safety standards to which the spacesuits will be manufactured, and Axiom Space agreed to meet these key agency requirements.
Axiom Space used the experience, knowledge and data behind xEMU as the basis for the design and development of AxEMU, including advances in technology, training, astronaut feedback on comfort and maneuverability, and compatibility with other NASA systems.