Space tourism has been existing since the 2000s with several missions organized by Virginia-based company Space Adventures reaching the International Space Station on Russian Soyuz spacecraft. However, times are changing as private companies are increasingly becoming part of this lucrative business, which creates opportunities that are beyond imagination.
On the 2nd of June 2021, Houston-based Axiom Space will fly three additional crewed missions to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard Space X’s Crew Dragon capsule. It is not the first cooperation between the two companies though: Axiom has already booked one confirmed Crew Dragon flight to the orbiting lab located on the International Space Station, a mission that will launch no earlier than January 2022.
This progressive privatisation of space is something revolutionary in mankind’s history and has become known to the public under the term of “New Space”. This expression means that space conquest is not the monopoly of States and public institutions anymore as it tends to involve more and more new actors. NASA’s decision to entrust Space X’s Crew Dragon spacecraft with the task of ensuring replacement of the International Space Station’s crew is a decisive token towards this evolution. This shift reinvents the traditional conception of space which has been until recently restricted to tasks such as observing the Earth or exploring and studying the Universe. From now on, spatial destinations must correspond to specific commercial aims, which implies a thorough study about their outlets before any programme is launched. In other words, the customer is likely to become the actor who defines how spacial conquest is going to be shaped in the future.
Axiom Space’s ambitions are not limited to these sole programmes though: in the end, Axiom wishes to organize up to two private flights per year, each mission bringing three clients and a professional astronaut. Its services are also offered to researchers who want to go there to perform some scientific work or even to actors in the framework of a film production. Axiom’s offer encompasses a training session for clients as well as their transport and the planning of the missions. The costs of these have increased a lot though: a one week stay for four people aboard the International Space Station now amounts to 12.5 million dollars, transport fees excluded, whereas they were announced around 1 million dollars in 2019. In addition to these manned flights, the company intends to launch a private module to the International Space Station in 2024 and has raised more than 130 million dollars funds for that. By 2028, that module should be ready to detach and fly freely as the base module of a privately owned orbiting outpost to replace the International Space Station which lifespan has already been significant. Axiom President and CEO Michael Suffredini is aware of the historic significance of this project, which bespeak of his company’s ambition: “Axiom was founded on a vision of lasting commercial development of space. We are on track to enable that future by managing the first-ever private missions to the ISS as a precursor to our development of the world’s first commercial space station”.
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