NASA has announced a collaboration with aerospace company Axiom Space for its second private astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The space agency said it will now negotiate with Axiom on a mission order agreement for the Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2). The mission, which will see a spacecraft docked to the ISS for a maximum of 14 days, is targeted for launch between September 2022 and June 2023 from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, US. The agency’s first private mission to space with the same company, called Ax-1, is set for February 21 next year.
During the Ax-2 mission, private astronauts will conduct activities in coordination with ISS crew members and flight controllers on the ground. The mission objective includes scientific research and outreach activities. The agency and the company will all be negotiating the in-orbit activities for the private astronauts during the mission.
“We have selected Axiom Space for the second private astronaut mission to the International Space Station, targeted to launch no earlier than late fall 2022,” NASA said in a tweet.
In a separate statement, NASA explained why it chose Axiom Space for the second private mission. The agency “evaluated the mission proposal based on Axiom’s ability to execute it successfully, NASA’s ability to support it, and its contribution to the agency’s mission and goal of low-Earth orbit commercialisation.”
NASA and its international partners will review Axiom’s proposal for selecting astronauts for the Ax-2 mission. Before approval for light, the selected crew members would undergo medical qualification testing based on NASA guidelines.
NASA has decided to partner with private companies to develop the space station for commercial activities. The biggest player in this fast-evolving sector is Elon Musk-led SpaceX.
Axiom is led by Michael Suffredini, who has served as NASA’s programme manager from 2005 to 2015. Suffredini founded the company in 2016 with the aim to build private space stations that various customers can visit to do research. The Ax-1 mission is led by former NASA astronaut and Axiom Space Vice President Michael Lopez-Alegria.