Axiom hires European company to help build private ISS module

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.

Capitalism in space: Axiom has hired the European company Thales Alenia, to build the habitation module of its commercial space station that will initially attach to ISS.

Axiom’s station modules will form a new section of ISS that will be able to operate independently, so that when ISS is decommissioned it can detach and remain operational in space.

That Axiom did not choose either Boeing (which I think built most of NASA’s ISS modules) or Northrop Grumman (which has been pushing an upgraded version of its Cygnus capsule as future station modules) is intriguing. I suspect with Boeing cost was the major reason, as Boeing’s modules are generally far too expensive. There also might be questions about that company’s quality control.

Why Northrop Grumman lost out however is unclear. Its Cygnus design is relatively inexpensive, and has clearly demonstrated that it works very reliably. obvious. Thales Alenia makes that Cygnus module for Northrop Grumman, so why buy it from the U.S. company when you can get it from the builder. (Thanks to reader Doug Booker for pointing out this obvious fact, one I had forgotten.)

Either way, this contract award gets us one step closer to truly private operations in space. Eventually competing private stations such as Axiom’s will replace government stations like ISS. That will in turn certainly lower costs and and increase innovation, which in turn will accelerate the development of the engineering required to build practical interplanetary spaceships.

This of course assumes we remain a free nation. Right now I have strong doubts.


Every July, to celebrate the anniversary of the start of Behind the Black in 2010, I hold a month-long fund-raising campaign to make it possible for me to continue my work here for another year.

This year's fund-raising drive however is more significant in that it is also the 10th anniversary of this website's founding. It is hard to believe, but I have been doing this for a full decade, during which I have written more than 22,000 posts, of which more than 1,000 were essays and almost 2,600 were evening pauses.

This year's fund drive is also more important because of the growing intolerance of free speech and dissent in American culture. Increasingly people who don't like what they read are blatantly acting to blackball sites like mine. I have tried to insulate myself from this tyrannical effort by not depending on Google advertising or cross-posts Facebook or Twitter. Though this prevents them from having a hold on me, it also acts to limit my exposure.

Therefore, I hope you will please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.


Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:

Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:


If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652


  • Doug Booker

    Uh, the Cygnus portion that transports cargo is made by Thales-Alenia. So why buy it from NG instead of the source?

  • Doug Booker: Duh, you are right. I had forgotten that Orbital Sciences had farmed out its work to other subcontractors, many in Europe.

  • geoffc

    The MPLM’s and I THINK most of the strcuture of the ISS modules on the US side were made by Thales-Alenia as well.

    Ok, looked it up. Node 1 – Unity – Boeing

    Node 2 – Harmony – Thales alenia

    Node 3 – Tranquility – Thales Alenia

    US Lab – Destiny – Boeing

    So mixed bag.

    MPLM is also Thales Alenia (berthed at node 3 forward i think)

    Cupula – Thales Alenia.

    But functionally a distinction without a difference really.

  • Matthew Straney

    The inflatable habitat company I forget which. I liked that idea because I thought it could provide the cheapest real estate in low earth orbit the quickest.

    Robert you wrote awhile ago the starship prototypes better stop blowing up or it’ll look bad. As a product people are going to have alot of bad memories of it blowing up as a product and theres a subliminal mindset that may lead them to think starships are nothing balloons ready to burst they’re that near the brink of perishing. A new metal that only leaks would be great though not sure if can ever be guaranteed by design. They’ve got plenty of lift capacity would adding more mass in the design ensure greater stability

  • Matthew Straney: You are thinking of Bigelow, which has successfully launched two inflatable test modules as well as a working test module, dubbed BEAM, to ISS.

    I’m not sure what the status of Bigelow is right now. It seems others, such as Axiom, have overtaken them.

  • David

    Bigelow laid off the entirety of their payroll not long ago. But they still have projects that were in progress that they haven’t sent any kind of notice out that “no, we’re not going to deliver this” on. So while the company is not officially dead, it seems fair to say that the body is lying on the floor not breathing and there aren’t any doctors doing anything about it.

  • A. Nonymous

    Who holds the patents on inflatables? Were they sold, or licensed exclusively? When do they expire?

    Of course, the big advantage of inflatables is to provide more living space for less launcher mass/volume. Will Starship make this issue moot?

  • There is no patent on inflatable space modules. It is in the public domain. The concept was first developed by NASA, and as standard policy all such concepts are released for all to use.

  • pzatchok

    Bigelow has a patent on how they fold the sides in to compress and fit the module into a smaller space.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *