WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
- SpaceX’s deal with Axiom Space will allow International Space Station astronauts to have some visitors next year.
- SpaceX’s Crew Dragon can accommodate three passengers with a commander in each flight. Passengers will be allowed to spend at least eight days in space.
- The space industry is heading towards space tourism innovation as commercial space activities are often deprioritized.
A signed deal by SpaceX, an American aerospace manufacturer, will allow the astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) to have some guests next year.
The project to take tourists, researchers, astronauts from foreign countries and other individuals outside of NASA’s astronaut corps to the ISS was commissioned to Axiom Space. Axiom’s first mission may start as early as the second half of 2021.
Three passengers, alongside a trained flight commander, will be allowed in each flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft — a fully-autonomous, gumdrop-shaped capsule that measures about 13-feet across. Passengers will be allowed to spend at least eight days before returning to earth.
“This will be just the first of many missions to ISS to be completely crewed and managed by Axiom Space — a first for a commercial entity,” said Axiom CEO Michael Suffredini, manager of NASA’s ISS program from 2005 to 2015.
SpaceX’s deal with Axiom marks the second space tourism-related announcement in a month. SpaceX is set to have another venture which will organize a trip orbiting the earth for travelers. The company, run by billionaire Elon Musk, is eyeing Space Adventures for this project.
Space Adventures already organized eight trips for ultra-wealthy travelers to ISS with Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft between 2001 and 2009. Since 2011, NASA has relied on the Russian spacecraft to get US astronauts to the space station.
Axiom’s tourism operation could mark the first US spacecraft used to take tourists to the ISS. As part of the preparation, Crew Dragon has to be certified for human spaceflight and prove it can serve its purpose of keeping the ISS fully staffed with professionally trained astronauts.
Crew Dragon appears to be on track to fly its first crewed mission by spring, after completing its last major testing milestone in January.
For the past two decades, the ISS, a giant orbiting laboratory, has hosted a rotating staff of astronauts from the US and other countries. NASA has encouraged more commercial activity at the space station. Last year, non-government astronauts were allowed to have two trips to ISS per year.
According to a NASA spokesperson, while the priority of Crew Dragon is to fly its own astronauts, the Axiom’s tourism project is in line with its “broad strategy to facilitate the commercialization” of space.