Phil McAlister, Director of Commercial Space at NASA Headquarters, emphasized the significance of the joint mission, stating, "Transitioning low Earth orbit operations from a predominantly government-led endeavor to one where NASA stands as a customer among many marks a major leap. Our directive to fortify commercial platforms in low Earth orbit and beyond the operations of the International Space Station will be significantly bolstered by these private astronaut missions."
Axiom Mission 4 (Ax-4) has been scheduled to dock with the space station for a period nearing 14 days. However, the final launch date will be contingent on prevailing spacecraft traffic to the space station and other relevant factors. To ensure seamless operations, NASA and Axiom Space will be meticulously aligning in-orbit tasks for the private astronauts in conjunction with station crew members and on-ground flight controllers.
Michael Suffredini, Axiom Space's CEO and President, shared his optimism about the forthcoming mission, stating, "Our vision for Axiom Space culminates with the establishment of the world's premier commercial space station, Axiom Station. With every mission, we're a step closer. These endeavors not only promote commercial space activities but also aim to extend space access to diverse entities globally. Simultaneously, they offer invaluable insights into microgravity living and work environments."
Axiom Space will soon propose four crew members for the Ax-4 mission, subject to review and approval by NASA and its global associates. On approval, the primary crew lineup for this mission will be finalized.
Training for the Ax-4 team will be a collaborative effort, incorporating expertise from NASA, international partners, and SpaceX. Axiom Space has enlisted SpaceX to handle transportation logistics to and from the space station. Additionally, they will acquaint the private astronauts with the Dragon spacecraft's intricate workings.
Axiom Space will be availing of NASA's services through a dual arrangement: a mission-specific order and a reimbursable Space Act Agreement. These agreements encompass various facets, from daily in-orbit essentials to training and facility usage at notable NASA centers in Houston and Florida. Moreover, NASA will have the opportunity to utilize specific capabilities from Axiom Space, notably the potential return of crucial scientific samples.
Previous collaborations between the two entities are noteworthy. Just this March, Axiom Space was chosen by NASA for the third private astronaut mission, expected to launch in January 2024. This selection was based on a rigorous evaluation process initiated after NASA's 2022 Research Announcement, focusing on mission feasibility, NASA's capacity to support the venture, and alignment with the agency's commercialization goals in low Earth orbit.
For over two decades, NASA has been a stalwart supporter of the U.S. human presence in low Earth orbit. Its vision transcends mere participation. By fostering a thriving low Earth orbit marketplace where the private sector takes the lead, NASA hopes to optimize costs and bolster its Artemis missions targeting the Moon and Mars.
For a deeper dive into NASA's endeavors to bolster the commercial low Earth orbit economy, visit here.
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