Axiom Mission 1
“We are on a mission to reveal it to as many humans as possible” – Axiom Space want as many people as possible to experience space. Credit: Axiom Space

Axiom Mission 1

06/04/2022Written by Harsh Patel

Axiom Mission 1 will be the first fully private mission to the International Space Station planned by Axiom Space.

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What is Axiom Space?

What is Axiom Space?
Ax-1 Crew Patch represents a new era of private space research and shows the four astronaut’s national flags. Credit: Axiom Space
What is Axiom Space?
SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule approaching the ISS for docking. Credit: NASA/SpaceX

In a big step for non-governmental companies and individuals to participate within the growing space industry, Axiom Space and SpaceX are leading the way with a collaborative mission to the International Space Station (ISS), called Axiom Mission 1.   

Most people will be familiar with SpaceX – the space design, manufacture and launch company founded by Elon Musk. While private company SpaceX will be operating the mission using their Crew Dragon capsule launched atop the steadfast Falcon 9 booster rocket, it is the new private space company Axiom Space that are behind the organisation of this mission.  

Founded in 2016, Axiom Space is a company aiming to make space travel more commercially available and its inaugural crewed mission will fly four private astronauts to the ISS: pilot Larry Connor, mission specialist Mark Pathy, mission specialist Eytan Stibbe and mission commander Michael López-Alegría – a professionally trained astronaut hired by the company. 

The mission’s crew won’t just be tourists, but will conduct extensive research and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) outreach for eight days in space. But with the commercialisation and privatisation of spaceflight in the New Space Era – what will be next? 

The Future of the ISS

The Future of the ISS
International Space Station. Credit: NASA
The Future of the ISS
Point Nemo – the most remote location on planet Earth. Credit: Timwi

The ISS has been a place of work and a home in space for over 250 astronauts that have visited since it first became inhabited in the year 2000. The first ISS component was launched in 1998 and from then we have learnt a lot about living in microgravity. It has given us the confidence and understanding to safely return to the Moon for long-term sustainable settlement with the Artemis Program which will see the first female walk on the lunar surface by the mid 2020s. This will be followed by creating the first settlement hub on a celestial object other than our Earth. 

Unfortunately, nothing can last forever – NASA published a transition report to “de-orbit” the station in January 2031. The modules will be separated and plunge back to Earth into the waters of Point Nemo. Latin for ‘no one’, Point Nemo is a remote area in the southern Pacific Ocean, as far from any inhabited place as possible and surrounded by thousands of miles of ocean in all directions. We have been using this location as a graveyard for retired spacecraft and satellites since the 1970s and at least 260 spacecraft have met their final fate there. 

With the ISS scheduled to be retiring within the decade, Axiom Space have a succession plan to create another space station. But this time it will be commercialised.  

Axiom Space's Future Vision

Axiom Space's Future Vision
Axiom Hub One, the first commercialised space station which will be used for research and manufacturing capability as well as crew quarters. Photos show the start of the first stage of the space station. Credit: Axiom Space
Axiom Space's Future Vision
CGI modelling of the Axiom space station. Credit: Axiom Space

Starting with Axiom Hub One and then later expanding to the Axiom Power Tower, construction is currently underway on the state of the art modules that will form the world’s first commercial space station. The design has been looked at by experts (including NASA) and welding and machining activities for the primary structures for the Hub One are already underway. In early 2023, the first pieces will be coming together and then later move to Houston for the completion of the final assembly. The station is then scheduled to launch in late 2024. 

Axiom Space will not be starting from scratch – collaboration with NASA will give them an experienced start that the private sector will benefit greatly from. The first module will be attached to the ISS initially where it can be tested and checked. Then additional modules will be added and once it’s ready, it will be separated to create an individual station. NASA and Axiom Space are trying to make sure the ‘baton’ is passed smoothly for Earth orbiting space stations and to ensure we have the infrastructure ready for astronauts to continue researching and travelling into space before the ISS is decommissioned. 

Astronauts in the Twenty-First Century

Astronauts in the Twenty-First Century
“We are on a mission to reveal it to as many humans as possible” – Axiom Space want as many people as possible to experience space. Credit: Axiom Space
Astronauts in the Twenty-First Century
Under the FAA’s more stringent rules, the crew of Blue Origin’s suborbital flights like the one conducted on 31 March 2002 are not recognised as astronauts due to the autonomous nature of their spaceflight. Credit: Blue Origin

After the completion of Axiom’s space station, the public will have an opportunity to become an astronaut and visit the ISS for a short stay. This will come at a hefty price tag which is not yet advertised by the start-up space company. The first mission crew members are mainly entrepreneurs and investors that have a passion for space and seeing our planet from a different perspective. 

With the increase in private and commercial spaceflight missions, it does beg the question of what it means to be an astronaut. While a basic definition includes a person who is trained and travels into space, in 2021 the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) toughened its criteria, specifying that a crew has to actually do something to contribute to the spaceflight itself which exclude those who have travelled to space on autonomous flights.  

Personally, I believe a distinction should be made between fully-trained professional astronauts, and those who visit space simply as tourists, (in the same way that commercial pilots and plane passengers are very different, even though both fly above the Earth’s surface). 

What are your thoughts?

About the author: Harsh Patel is a Space Communications Presenter at the National Space Centre.