Axiom buys robot arm grapple points from the Canadian company MDA

Capitalism in space: For the first time, a private space station company, Axiom, has purchased 32 space station robot arm grapple points, or interfaces, from the Canadian company MDA that builds the robot arms on ISS for NASA.

The MDA interfaces aboard Axiom’s space station will also include those that allow the existing Canadarm2 on the International Space Station (ISS) to build and assemble the new Axiom Station. Once that stage is complete, MDA’s Canadarm3 interfaces will act as permanent robotic system fixture points on the outside of Axiom Station, forming the foundation for future robotic arm integration and utilization once it separates from the ISS and operates independently.

This deal means that eventually Axiom is going to purchase its own MDA-built robot arm.

Axiom signs deal with the UAE to fly one astronaut to ISS in ’23

Capitalism in space: Axiom announced today that it has signed an agreement with the United Arab Emirate (UAE) to fly a UAE astronaut to ISS in ’23 for a six month mission.

Axiom was able to put its own passenger on this flight because of a complex deal with NASA that had Axiom act as the go-between for Mark Vande Hei’s launch on a Soyuz in April ’21. Axiom brought the flight for NASA (which didn’t have the funds), and got in exchange a free seat for a passenger on a later American launch. Axiom has now sold that seat to the UAE.

The UAE in turn solidifies its space effort, with a six month manned mission to ISS.

The deal also demonstrates the priceless value of leaving ownership to American companies. Axiom made this deal to sell globally its long term space station plans, and it will use a SpaceX Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket to launch it. Both companies thus make money on their products, instead of the cash going to NASA. Such profits will only encourage further sales, not only to these companies but to other competing American rocket and space station companies.

Endeavour splashes down successfully

UPDATE: Endeavour has successfully splashed down, and crews are approaching to recover the capsule.

This by the way completes Endeavour’s third manned flight into space.

Original post:
——————-
The SpaceX capsule Endeavour, carrying Axiom’s first commercial passengers, undocked with ISS last night and is scheduled to splashdown off the coast of Florida shortly.

I have embedded the live stream below, scheduled to begin shortly.
» Read more

Return of Axiom mission delayed again because of weather

Because of marginal winds at the splashdown points, SpaceX, Axiom, and NASA agreed today to delay the return of Axiom’s first private mission to ISS one more day.

The Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) crew is now targeting to undock from the International Space Station 8:55 p.m. EDT Sunday, April 23.

Weather permitting, the Ax-1 crew is targeted to close the hatch at about 6:45 p.m. Sunday, April 24, to begin the journey home in SpaceX Dragon Endeavour with splashdown off the coast of Florida approximately 1:00 p.m. Monday, April 25.

This delay will also delay the launch of NASA’s next crew to ISS on SpaceX’s new Dragon capsule, Freedom, now scheduled for launch no earlier than April 27th.

New schedule announced for landing of AX-1 crew and launch of NASA crew

Because of poor weather at the splashdown points on Earth, SpaceX and NASA have worked out a new schedule for both the landing of Axiom’s first passenger flight to ISS as well as NASA’s next launch of astronauts.

The integrated NASA, Axiom Space, and SpaceX teams have agreed on a plan for the Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) crew to undock from the International Space Station at 8:35 p.m. EDT Saturday, April 23, for a splashdown off the coast of Florida about 1:46 p.m. Sunday, April 24. The decision was made based on the best weather for splashdown of the first private astronaut mission to visit the International Space Station and the return trajectory required to bring the crew and the SpaceX Dragon Endeavour spacecraft back to Earth safely.

…The departure of Dragon Endeavour from the space station will clear the docking port for the arrival of Dragon Freedom and NASA’s SpaceX Crew-4 astronauts. The earliest potential launch opportunity for the Crew-4 mission is 4:15 a.m. Tuesday, April 26, with additional opportunities Wednesday, April 27, and Thursday, April 28. These launch opportunities are undergoing a more detailed program review to ensure they align with integrated operational timelines. The teams want to provide a two-day gap after Ax-1 return for data reviews from splashdown and to prepare for the Crew-4 launch, including the staging of recovery assets.

If the landing occurs on April 23rd as now planned, the Axiom passengers will have spent fifteen days in space, about four more than originally planned.

Axiom again cancels return of manned mission due to weather

Capitalism in space: Because of continuing poor weather on Earth, SpaceX & Axiom once again canceled the planned return of manned mission yesterday.

At the moment there is no word on when SpaceX’s Endeavour capsule will undock and bring its passengers home. Since a NASA crew is preparing for launch on Saturday, April 23rd, we should expect that return to occur beforehand.

This article from Israel about the delay, which also focuses on the flight of Israeli businessman Eytan Stibbe, had this interesting tidbit:

Businessmen Stibbe, American Larry Connor of Ohio, and Canadian Mark Pathy have paid $55 million apiece for the rocket ride. The visitors’ tickets include access to all but the Russian portion of the space station. [emphasis mine]

When the Russians launched Dennis Tito and other tourists in 2000s, I am unsure if those tourists were allowed in the American portion of the station. My guess would be yes, but that would be a guess, and very easily wrong. During the two tourist flights to ISS in October and December it is also unclear if those passengers had access to the American half. Considering the competition for tourist flights that now exists, I would suspect no.

Return of first Axiom commercial crew from ISS delayed

Capitalism in space: Because of iffy weather at their planned splashdown point, SpaceX and Axiom have delayed the return of Axiom’s first commercial crew at ISS so that they will splashdown tomorrow.

Weather permitting, the four-member private astronaut crew now is targeted to undock at about 10 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, to begin the journey home with splashdown off the coast of Florida no earlier than approximately 3:24 p.m. EDT Wednesday, April 20.

If weather remains an issue, the return to Earth of Endeavour could be delayed further.

SpaceX successfully launches Axiom’s first commercial flight to ISS

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched the first commercial mission to ISS by the private company Axiom, carrying three passengers and one Axiom astronaut as commander.

The replay of the live stream of the launch is embedded below.

The first stage, which landed successfully on the drone ship in the Atlantic, completed its fifth flight. The capsule Endeavour was making its third flight. This is also the second private manned mission launched by SpaceX.

Docking with ISS is scheduled for early tomorrow morning.

All in all, it was a perfect launch, on time and as planned. This has become so routine for SpaceX that we tend to take it for granted. We shouldn’t. Launching people into space remains one of the hardest things humans do, and will likely always be so.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

13 SpaceX
9 China
5 Russia
2 ULA
2 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 20 to 9 in the national rankings.
» Read more

ISS government partners give okay to Axiom’s first commercial crew to station

Capitalism in space: NASA announced yesterday that it as well as the other international partners for ISS have approved the crew and passengers who will fly on Axiom’s first commercial flight to the station, presently scheduled for launch on March 30, 2022, flying in SpaceX’s Endeavour capsule.

Axiom Space astronauts Michael López-Alegría, Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, and Eytan Stibbe are prime crew members of the Ax-1 mission. López-Alegría, who was born in Spain, raised in California, and a former NASA astronaut, will serve as the mission commander. Connor, of Dayton, Ohio, will serve as pilot. Pathy, from Canada, and Stibbe, from Israel, will be mission specialists. The quartet is scheduled to spend eight days aboard the orbiting laboratory conducting science, education, and commercial activities before their return to Earth.

Because the four will be staying at this government station, they must work with NASA, which appears to be requiring them to do some research while on board. Those experiments are still “under review” though Axiom has already revealed a suite of microgravity experiments the crew will perform.

Axiom awards construction contract for building Houston space station factory

Capitalism in space: Axiom has awarded its first construction contract for building its space station factory at a Houston industrial park dubbed Spaceport Houston.

Phase I of the Houston Spaceport architecture and engineering design contract was awarded to Jacobs by Axiom Space. This 100,000 sq ft facility will be developed on a 400 acre-site, located within Ellington Airport, at the heart of Space City. Axiom Space, the privately funded space infrastructure developer intends to use this new spaceport to achieve its goal of assembling the first commercial international space station and providing access to low Earth orbit.

The choice by Axiom of Houston for this facility is, at first glance, somewhat puzzling. Once built here Axiom’s large station modules and equipment will then have to be transported to some launch facility, likely Kennedy in Florida. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to build them in Florida, close to where they will be launched?

The explanation lies in politics. Axiom’s management has many close ties to NASA and the Johnson Space Center. Furthermore, Axiom’s first modules will be docked to ISS, run by Johnson. Building in Houston will give Axiom brownie points with these government entities, which will in turn grease the wheels for anything Axiom needs to do at ISS.

Axiom & UK entertainment company propose film studio in space

Film studio balloon

Capitalism in space: Axiom has signed a deal with British-based entertainment company, Space Entertainment Enterprise (SEE) to add an inflatable film studio module to its private commercial space station.

Axiom Space’s modules are to be added to the ISS throughout the second half of the 2020s. SEE-1 would be added along with these components.

Once the ISS program is near its end, the plan is for the commercial segment to be detached to form an independent station.

According to SEE, the spherical studio module is planned to be about 20 feet (6 meters) in diameter once fully expanded in space. Its interior is expected to provide an “unobstructed pressurized volume” that can be adapted for a range of media activities, including film production, music, sports and livestreaming events.

The graphics that accompanied the press release of the British company make me very skeptical of it. Posted on the right, it shows this inflatable module as a simple sphere, like a balloon. No manned module ever built, including the inflatable modules launched by Bigelow, has ever looked anything like this. This suggests a certain level of ignorance from the entertainment company which also suggests this project really doesn’t yet exist. The press release and agreement with Axiom seems instead merely an effort to drum up investment capital from investors who know even less.

NASA approves Axiom’s second commercial flight to ISS

In a strangely worded NASA press release, the agency announced that it has “selected” Axiom for the second private commercial manned mission to ISS.

NASA has selected Axiom Space for the second private astronaut mission to the International Space Station. NASA will negotiate with Axiom on a mission order agreement for the Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2) targeted to launch between fall 2022 and late spring 2023.

As at present there appears to be no other American company planning commercial manned flights to ISS, NASA wasn’t “selecting” Axiom at all. All NASA was doing was approving Axiom’s proposal to fly the mission to NASA’s space station, while confirming that Axiom will pay NASA’s greatly increased charges, raised about 700% more than the older price list.

The language of this announcement, combined with the exorbitant NASA charges, is only going to accelerate the effort of private companies, including Axiom, to build their own independent space stations. It isn’t NASA’s place to “select” any privately funded commercial flight into space, ever. That this government agency is making believe it has that right is only going to alienate the new private space industry, giving them reason to get away from NASA as fast as possible.

Meanwhile, Axiom is already scheduled to fly its first tourist flight to ISS in February 2022. The second flight that NASA “selected” today is to be followed by two more, for a total of four tourist flights. At that point, around 2024, Axiom will then launch its first module to ISS, beginning the process of relying less on NASA and leading to the undocking of Axiom’s station from ISS.

Axiom sets launch date for first private commercial manned mission to ISS

Capitalism in space: Axiom has set February 21, 2022 as the target launch date for its first private commercial manned mission to ISS, carrying one employee and three passengers for eight days.

In making the announcement the company emphasized the science research the passengers — Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, and Eytan Stibbe — will do:

The crew activities of Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) will focus on science, education, and outreach, conducting approximately 25 experiments while onboard the ISS. Critical data from studies in human research, life and physical sciences, technology demonstrations, and Earth observation will expand the applicability of microgravity research to new sectors. The crew has submitted over 100 hours of human-tended research to conduct during their stay on station.

The commander will be former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, who now works for Axiom. This will be his fifth spaceflight.

New cracks discovered on a different Russian ISS module

Russian officials revealed today that their astronauts have discovered new cracks on a different Russian ISS module, dubbed Zarya.

“Superficial fissures have been found in some places on the Zarya module,” Vladimir Solovyov, chief engineer of rocket and space corporation Energia, told RIA news agency, according to Reuters. “This is bad and suggests that the fissures will begin to spread over time.” The Zarya module, also called the Functional Cargo Block, was the first component of the ISS ever launched, having blasted into orbit on Nov. 20, 1998, according to NASA.

Russians have now found what appear to be age stress fractures on both Zarya and Zvezda, the two oldest modules of ISS. More important, the Russians are finally admitting that the cracks are stress fractures, something they had earlier denied.

The need to launch new commercial American modules to ISS as quickly as possible has now become even more urgent. Axiom plans to do so, but its first module is not scheduled to arrive before ’24. It now looks increasingly that the Russian modules might not make it till then.

Thales Alenia to build first two modules of Axiom’s commercial space station

Capitalism in space: The Italian company Thales Alenia today announced it has finalized the contract to build the first two modules of Axiom’s private commercial space station, set to be docked to ISS initially but eventually to fly independent once ISS is decommissioned.

Total price for the contract is 110 million euros. According to the press release, they are targeting 2024 and 2025 for launching these modules, which will be able to house as many as eight residents.

Based on its past successful experience in building modules for the International Space Station, Thales Alenia Space is responsible for the design, development, assembly and test of the primary structure and the Micrometeoroid & Debris Protection System for the two Axiom modules.

The welding activities of the primary structure of the first module will start in September 2021, with the assembly process concluding in 2022. The first module will arrive at Axiom facilities in Houston in July 2023, where Axiom will integrate and outfit the core systems and certify it for flight prior to shipping to the launch facility.

With the launch of this station, human spaceflight in the United States will become completely independent of the federal government. Private companies will own the rockets, spacecraft, and stations, and the government will no longer have a major say on what goes on in space. The NASA bureaucracy that makes getting an experiment onto ISS cumbersome, difficult, and discouraging will be out of a job. (An example: In the 2000s American scientists studying plant growth in weightlessness ended up launching their experiments with the Russians because getting NASA approval turned out to be too difficult.)

This doesn’t mean that it will be easy to get a payload or experiment onto Axiom’s station. The demand will be quite high. It just means that the decision will no longer reside with the government, but with the private companies and citizens of the United States.

As it always should have been.

Furthermore, that the demand is going to exceed the supply will mean that additional stations will be built, and quickly, because the lure of profit will be there. For example, many of the commercial medical experiments that were on the verge of paying off but were shut down after the Challenger accident in 1986 could very well be brought back to life.

The bell of freedom rings in space

The Liberty Bell
“Proclaim liberty throughout all the land and the
inhabitants thereof.” Photo credit: William Zhang

Not surprisingly the mainstream press today was agog with hundreds of stories about Richard Branson’s suborbital space flight yesterday on Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity spaceplane.

The excitement and joy over this success is certainly warranted. Back in 2004 Branson set himself the task of creating a reusable suborbital space plane he dubbed SpaceShipTwo, modeled after the suborbital plane that had won the Ansari X-Prize and intended to sell tickets so that private citizens would have the ability to go into space.

His flight yesterday completed that journey. The company he founded and is slowly selling off so that he is only a minority owner now has a vehicle that for a fee can take anyone up to heights ranging from 50 to 60 miles, well within the U.S. definition of space.

Nonetheless, if you rely on the media frenzy about this particular flight to inform you about the state of commercial space you end up having a very distorted picture of this new blossoming industry. Branson’s achievement, as great as it is, has come far too late. Had he done it a decade ago, as he had promised, he would have achieved something historic, proving what was then considered impossible, that private enterprise, using no government resources, could make space travel easy and common.

Now, however, he merely joins the many other private enterprises that are about to fly into space, with most doing it more frequently and with far greater skill and at a much grander scale than Virgin Galactic. His flight is no longer historic. It is merely one of many that is about to reshape space exploration forever.

Consider the upcoming schedule of already paid for commercial manned flights:
» Read more

Axiom strikes tourist deal with SpaceX for three more flights

Capitalism in space: Axiom today announced that it had signed a deal with SpaceX to use its Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket to launch three more manned tourist missions following the first now scheduled for January.

Ax-1, Axiom’s historic first private ISS mission, has already been approved by NASA and targeted for launch to the ISS no earlier than Jan. 2022, also aboard Dragon as a result of a deal the companies signed in March 2020. Axiom last week revealed legendary astronaut Peggy Whitson and champion GT racer John Shoffner would serve as commander and pilot on its proposed Ax-2 mission – now confirmed to be a Dragon flight.

So, too, are Ax-3 and Ax-4.

Other than Whitson and Shoffner, the company has not revealed who will fly on those three additional flights. That it made this deal however strongly suggests that it has ample demand for seats and will fill those capsules with no problem.

The press release also reiterates the company’s space station plans. They will begin attaching their own modules to ISS in ’24, with the goal of detaching from the station in ’28 and operating as an independent entirely private station thereafter.

Axiom announces astronaut to command its second commercial manned flight

Capitalism in space: Axiom has announced that retired NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson will command its second commercial manned flight.

Whitson was the first woman to command the International Space Station and the oldest woman to fly in space (57, in 2017). She holds the U.S. record for most cumulative time in space (665 days) as well as the world record for most spacewalks by a woman (10).

Joining her will be 65-year-old John Shoffner, an airplane pilot and a champion car racer.

No word yet on when this flight will take place, but expect them to aim for next year, as soon as possible after Axiom’s first ISS commercial flight in January. Scheduling will also depend on NASA, which is presently working out an ISS scheduling policy to manage the increasing number of private missions being offered.

The flight will likely use a SpaceX Dragon capsule, which means there is room for two more passengers. It is possible that those seats will be filled with the winners of Discovery Channel’s proposed reality show, but they also might be filled by actor Tom Cruise and a movie director, both of whom have expressed interest in filming scenes of a movie on ISS.

Discovery channel to launch contest to fly winner to space

Capitalism in space: The Discovery channel today announced that it is planning a contest where the winner will win an eight-day flight to ISS in partnership with the space tourism company Axiom.

The casting call on Discovery’s website says that eligibility is limited to U.S. residents or citizens, with additional requirements to be disclosed. For now, there are few other details about eligibility for hopeful astronauts applying to the Discovery show, the expected challenges entrants will face and who will serve as judges for the competition, as the series isn’t expected to start filming until next year.

It is so far unclear whether or not eligibility may include people with physical disabilities, but the casting call does include questions about your degree of impairment with physical activities. (The European Space Agency’s current astronaut process is open to candidates with physical disabilities, and the forthcoming Inspiration4 mission includes Hayley Arceneaux, who has a prosthetic limb after childhood bone cancer.)

Discovery said the series will be in eight parts and will chronicle a “grueling” process. “The series will follow each of the contestants competing for the opportunity in a variety of extreme challenges designed to test them on the attributes real astronauts need most, and as they undergo the training necessary to qualify for space flight and life on board the space station,” the channel said in a statement.

It is unclear exactly when this mission will fly, but based on its description and timing I suspect it will not be for several years, and might actually take place after Axiom installs its own module to ISS in ’24.

NASA: Commercial demand exceeds supply at ISS

Capitalism in space: According to NASA officials, the number of private commercial tourist flights being proposed exceeds the availability of docking ports at ISS.

“We are seeing a lot of interest in private astronaut missions, even outside of Axiom,” said Angela Hart, manager of commercial low Earth orbit development at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. “At this point, the demand exceeds what we actually believe the opportunities on station will be.”

Opportunities for private astronaut missions are limited by what NASA calls the “traffic model” for the ISS, or the schedule of vehicles arriving and departing the station. Commercial crew missions are limited to two docking ports on the station, one of which is occupied by the vehicle that transported the current long-duration crew on the station. The other is used by commercial crew vehicles during crew handovers, cargo Dragon missions and private astronaut missions.

That restricts the opportunities for private astronaut missions. “About two is about all you fit in there with the rest of the traffic,” Dana Weigel, deputy manager of the ISS program at JSC, said.

The solution should be obvious to all. Private launch companies that wish to use ISS have to launch either their own docking ports, or their own modules with docking ports. This is Axiom’s plan, with its own module scheduled to arrive sometime in ’24. A secondary solution would be for private companies to launch their own space stations, independent of ISS. This would not only sidestep the problem of the bottleneck at ISS, it would free such a company from the charges NASA imposes for using ISS.

Meanwhile, it appears that Axiom is countering those new NASA’s charges for its ISS flights. From the article:

Thanks to an exchange of services between NASA and Axiom, it will actually be NASA paying Axiom for the Ax-1 mission. While Axiom is acquiring services such as crew supplies and on-orbit resources, NASA will be purchasing “cold stowage” space on the Crew Dragon spacecraft to return cargo to Earth at the end of the mission. NASA will pay Axiom $1.69 million for the mission, although Hart noted there will be other charges to Axiom for training and launch services, some of which are still being negotiated.

Suffredini said that, on later missions, Axiom will seek to reduce its reliance on NASA services. “We have a goal that, by after our third flight, we will provide all of those kinds of capabilities” that it is currently purchasing from NASA.

I wonder if that third flight will occur after the launch of Axiom’s module.

NASA and Axiom finalize contract for private tourism flight to ISS

Capitalism in space: NASA today announced that it has signed the order detailing the first commercial tourism flight to ISS by Axiom, set for no earlier than January ’22.

The spaceflight, designated as Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1), will launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and travel to the International Space Station. Once docked, the Axiom astronauts are scheduled to spend eight days aboard the orbiting laboratory. NASA and Axiom 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 will purchase services for the mission from NASA, such as crew supplies, cargo delivery to space, storage, and other in-orbit resources for daily use. NASA will purchase from Axiom the capability to return scientific samples that must be kept cold in transit back to Earth.

SpaceX will transport the four Axiom astronauts to and from ISS in a Dragon capsule, as yet undetermined.

According to yesterday’s Space News article, the contract for this flight had been signed prior to NASA establishing its new much higher prices for the use of ISS.

Bigelow sues NASA for $1 million

The commercial space station company Bigelow Aerospace has now sued NASA for $1 million, claiming that the agency has refused to pay it for work done.

Bigelow Aerospace said it entered into an agreement with NASA on the B330 project in August 2016 to perform and complete a certain long-term pressure leak test on its prototype. The purpose of the test was to demonstrate that the B330 meets NASA’s standards of construction and reliability.

According to the lawsuit, Bigelow Aerospace was required to perform a leak test on its module and “provide certain periodic test reports” to NASA. The reports were scheduled and were required to summarize the results of the test, specifically whether the B330 had met certain standards set by NASA. “Importantly, the Contract contains no requirement that Bigelow Aerospace had to provide NASA with continuous and/or raw” data, the lawsuit alleges.

Bigelow Aerospace said NASA breached its contract with the agency by refusing to pay the full amount to the company. The company said that its damages are in excess of $1 million because it had to hire attorneys to bring the lawsuit forward.

According to the suit, multiple attempts were made between January and February to demand payment. The lawsuit said that NASA’s attorney requested raw test data from Bigelow’s testing carried out under the contract as a prerequisite of being paid the amount owed. “However, this requirement was not a term of the Contract, and was an attempt by NASA to place additional requirements on Bigelow Aerospace that had not been part of the parties’ agreement,” according to the lawsuit.

Until 2016, when Bigelow’s prototype BEAM module was installed on ISS, this company seemed the world’s unmatched leader in the construction of private commercial space station modules. It had already flown two prototypes successfully, and then built BEAM for NASA in only two years for a mere $17 million.

Since then it seems Bigelow has been stalled by Washington politics and some insider maneuvering at NASA. In January 2020 NASA picked Axiom to build the first commercial operational private modules to be attached to ISS, not Bigelow. I wondered then why Bigelow had been bypassed by a company that had never built anything. Noting how Axiom had numerous NASA insiders in its management, many with links to Boeing, I concluded:
» Read more

NASA forges deal with private company to put American on Russian Soyuz

Capitalism in space: It appears NASA used the private company Axiom as its go-between to obtain a seat for an American astronaut on the next Soyuz launch to ISS in April.

The deal is very complex.

Based on the initial partnership arrangement between the Russians and NASA, astronauts for both countries would fly in equal numbers on each other’s spacecraft in a barter arrangement that involved no exchange of funds. Russia however has been balking at flying its astronauts on Dragon, claiming it does not yet meet their standards for a manned spacecraft. Thus, they have been demanding that NASA pay them to fly an American on Soyuz.

NASA meanwhile doesn’t have the funds, but it still wants to make sure there is always an American on board ISS, and to do that requires a second ferry besides Dragon to provide redundancy. With Boeing’s Starliner delayed, they have been trying to get a seat on Soyuz as part of that barter deal, to no avail.

The solution? Private enterprise! To get that Soyuz seat at no cost it appears NASA made a barter deal with the private space company Axiom. Axiom is apparently paying the Russians for a seat on next month’s Soyuz flight, which will be filled by a NASA astronaut, and gets in return from NASA a free spare seat on a later American capsule.

The result? NASA pays nothing to the Russians, and still gets its seat on Soyuz. Where Axiom is getting the financing for its purchase is unclear, but because it is getting an extra seat at no cost that it can sell later for a big profit, I suspect that financing was not difficult to obtain.

The details for Axiom’s deal with Roscosmos have not as yet been revealed, though I am sure the Russians charged Axiom plenty for the seat on Soyuz. I also suspect that amount was far less then what the Russians would have charged NASA directly.

Once Starliner finally becomes operational NASA will have enough redundancy for getting Americans to ISS it will no longer need the Russians. Hopefully that will happen by the end of this year. If so, such shenanigans will no longer be required.

Axiom raises $130 million in investment capital

Capitalism in space: The private space station company Axiom announced today that it has obtained $130 million in investment capital during its most recent round of fund-raising.

The funding will allow the company to expand, including doubling its current workforce of about 110 people this year, Michael Suffredini, president and chief executive of Axiom, said in an interview. It will also support quarterly payments to Thales Alenia Space, which is building the pressurized elements of the first modules. The company recently moved into a two-story building in Houston and is buying a new test facility, with plans to establish a campus at Spaceport Houston, also known as Ellington Airport.

“This is a really the major step for us,” he said. “The B round is typically where you get your first large investment, but more importantly than the money is the community of investors that you put together, so that future rounds are largely from those investors.” That group of investors, he said, was “a perfect fit for us and puts us in a good position, however we want to go forward.”

Suffredini also admitted that while helps get those first modules built for launch to ISS in ’24, they will still need “probably between half a billion and a billion dollars” to build their full private space station.

Sounds like a lot, eh? ISS cost about $100 billion, but that is not including the contributions of the U.S.’s international partners. It is also likely a conservative estimate, as it likely does not include any of NASA’s overhead in connection with the station. Construction officially began in 1994, but actually started a decade earlier when President Reagan first proposed its predecessor, the Freedom station, and those costs are not included as well.

So Axiom will build its private station for about a billion, and get it done in about five years. NASA spent anywhere from $100 to $200 billion, and took more than three decades to get it launched and built.

Which product would you buy?

Axiom’s first passengers to ISS paying $55 million each

Capitalism in space: The three non-Axiom employees who will fly as part of the crew for the company’s first private manned mission to ISS are paying $55 million each for the privilege.

The first private space station crew was introduced Tuesday: Three men who are each paying $55 million to fly on a SpaceX rocket. They’ll be led by a former NASA astronaut now working for Axiom Space, the Houston company that arranged the trip for next January.

“This is the first private flight to the International Space Station. It’s never been done before,” said Axiom’s chief executive and president Mike Suffredini, a former space station program manager for NASA. While mission commander Michael Lopez-Alegria is well known in space circles, “the other three guys are just people who want to be able to go to space, and we’re providing that opportunity,” Suffredini told The Associated Press.

The first crew will spend eight days at the space station, and will take one or two days to get there aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule following liftoff from Cape Canaveral.

The initial press release made it appear that all four men were crew members and not passengers. And though Axiom and these passengers are both continuing to de-emphasize the tourist nature of their flight, claiming they will each be tasked with science research and that it “is 100% not a vacation for these guys,” the simple fact remains that they are paying customers, flying in space for the fun of it.

Why Axiom and these passengers feel obliged to misconstrue the tourist nature of their flight puzzles me. There is no reason for them to be ashamed of their desire to fly in space. Nor should they feel any guilt about having the money that allows them to pay for the privilege. This is what freedom is all about. They earned their wealth, and it now allows them the chance to do something grand. All power to them.

The actual ticket-price is also intriguing. At $55 million it is far more than the $35 million paid by the last tourist flown on a Russian Soyuz to ISS, though less than the $75 to $90 million the Russians were charging NASA. Overall it appears the price per ticket for an orbital flight has gone up, though the emerging competition is likely stabilizing the price at a lower plateau.

The announcement is also interesting in that so little is mentioned of SpaceX. Though the flight has been sold as an Axiom one, this particular tourist flight will depend entirely on SpaceX hardware to get to and from ISS. Axiom has merely acted as the broker for the flight.

Eventually Axiom will have its own in-space habitable space, first attached to ISS as new modules and later flying free as its own space station after ISS is retired. Right now however the real achievement is coming from SpaceX. This detail must be recognized.

Axiom names crew for its first private manned mission to ISS

Capitalism in space: The private company Axiom today revealed the names of the four-person crew that will fly a SpaceX Dragon capsule to ISS on the first wholly private manned spaceflight.

The four members of the Axiom Space Ax-1 crew: Michael Lopez-Alegria, former NASA astronaut, Axiom Space vice president and Ax-1 commander; Larry Connor, U.S. real estate entrepreneur and Ax-1 pilot; Mark Pathy, Canadian investor and philanthropist; and Eytan Stibbe, Israeli businessman and fighter pilot.

The crew of the first entirely-private orbital space mission will include the second oldest person to launch into space, the second Israeli in space, the 11th Canadian to fly into space and the first former NASA astronaut to return to the International Space Station, the company organizing the history-making flight has announced.

The launch date has also been delayed from the fall to early ’22.

It is unclear if these four men are the entire passenger list. Dragon can carry up to seven passagers, and earlier rumors had hinted that Tom Cruise and a movie director were buying two seats on this private mission in order to film scenes for a movie.

It is also unclear why the flight was delayed, other than a suggestion that it was due to scheduling conflicts with getting to ISS.

Nanoracks’ commercial airlock installed on ISS

Capitalism in space: Using the robot arm on ISS, astronauts on December 21st installed Nanoracks’ commercial airlock, dubbed Bishop, in its place on the station.

I think this is the second private module installed on ISS, following Bigelow’s inflatable BEAM module. Bishop is for equipment only, and supplements the equipment airlock on the Japanese Kibo module. It is also five times larger, and rather than use hatches, it deploys equipment outside of ISS using the robot arm. Each time Nanoracks wants to use it to deploy a commercial cubesat they will use the arm to unberth Bishop, deploy the satellite through the docking port, and then re-berth it.

Bishop and BEAM are harbingers of the future on ISS. Axiom will be adding its own private modules in ’24. And then there are the upcoming private tourist flights. Both Axiom (using Dragon) and Russia (using Soyuz) have such flights scheduled before the end of ’21.

Assuming the economy doesn’t crash due to government oppression and mismanagement, gradually over the next decade expect operations on ISS and future stations to shift from the government to commercial private operations, aimed at making profits instead of spending taxpayer money.

Axiom chooses Houston for its astronaut training and space station construction facility

Capitalism in space: Axiom, the company building the next private modules to be added to ISS, has chosen Houston as the location for its astronaut training and space station construction facility.

Axiom Space, based in Houston, plans to develop a 14-acre headquarters campus at the spaceport located at Ellington Airport. It will use this campus to train private astronauts and for production of its Axiom Station. Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the project on Tuesday.

…Terms of the deal, including how the development would be financed, are still being worked out and must be approved by City Council. The Houston Airport System, for instance, could help provide financing that Axiom Space would pay back.

Axiom said construction could begin in 2021, and it expects to have a functional headquarters campus in 2023. The company grew its workforce to 90 people this year and is looking to hire another 100 next year. Ultimately, it could add more than 1,000 jobs for the Houston area.

For Axiom, the most important event in the coming year will be its private manned mission to ISS, using SpaceX’s Dragon capsule. That flight, presently scheduled for the fall, will put it on the map.

Israeli fighter pilot to fly on Axiom’s first private Dragon launch in ’21

Capitalism in space: Axiom has revealed that an Israeli fighter pilot, Eytan Stibbe, will be the second passenger on on its first private Dragon launch to ISS in the fall of 2021.

Stibbe will be the second Israeli to fly in space, following Ilan Ramon, who died when the space shuttle Columbia broke up in 2003 during its return to Earth.

The Axiom AX-1 mission is scheduled to launch in the second half of 2021, which the company unveiled in a deal with SpaceX earlier this year. Astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, who previously worked for NASA and flew to space four times, will be the AX-1 mission commander, with Stibbe set to serve as a mission specialist.

AX-1 would be the first fully private mission to the International Space Station, with Lopez-Alegria and Stibbe flying with two other yet-to-be-named people.

The consistent rumors are that actor Tom Cruise and a movie director will be those other two passengers, but this is not confirmed.

It is important to emphasize that this space mission will be entirely private, with almost no involvement of the U.S. government other than providing coordination, the training of the astronauts, and the use of ISS. The rocket and spacecraft are SpaceX’s, purchased by the customer Axiom. Moreover, Axiom has plans to add its own private modules to ISS where future private space passengers will be housed, which will then reduce the government’s role and contribution even more.

And since this will be a private mission, it means the funds to fly it will come from its passengers, not the government. This also means that as long as there are customers, there will be no slow-down in future flights.

Axiom hires European company to help build private ISS module

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.

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