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Ax-1: Why the private mission to the International Space Station is a game changer, and details about the space station Axium is seeking to build

Each participant contributed $55 million of their own money, with some of the money being invested in the fund until enough money is accumulated to build a space station. Initially it will be built as a continuation of the International Space Station, and then with progress it will take on an independent life

By Ian Whittaker, Senior Lecturer in Physics, Trent University Nottingham, UK

An infographic showing the space station planned by the Axiom company. PR photo
An infographic showing the space station planned by the Axiom company. PR photo

Not long ago, billionaires competed to see who would reach the "frontier of space". Now the first group of private individuals is preparing to fly a Space-X space shuttle to the International Space Station. Unlike the "fun rides" of Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, this mission will reach an altitude of about 400 km which is necessary to dock with the space station.

The mission of the American commercial space flight company Axiom Space is a big step forward in private space flights, and part of a plan to establish a private space station. After Russia recently withdrew from cooperation on the International Space Station, the world will be watching whether the private sector can be trusted to provide reliable access to space to explore it for peaceful purposes.

The Ax-1 mission was launched on April 8 using Space-X's Dragon Endeavor spacecraft - like the one used by astronauts in 2020 - aboard a Falcon 9 rocket. The mission is planned to last ten days, eight of which will be on the space station.

Because of the high altitude and long distance, the preparations took a long time. The concept mission has existed as a program since the founding of Axiom Space in 2016 by Iranian-American businessman Kamal Ghafarian (who also founded the private nuclear reactor company X-energy) and Michael T. Spardini (who had a long career at NASA). NASA finances part of the costs, but each of the four participants also has to contribute 55 million dollars (as reported) of their own money.

The flying astronauts will feel weightless most of the time during the ten days and will be subject to risks that all astronauts experience, including radiation exposure, loss of muscle mass and possibly loss of bone mass. But in such a short mission, those risks are very low.

Unlike the usual American flights to the space station, mission control is located at Axiom's headquarters in Houston and not on NASA's premises. This is the first time it has been used for a full mission, but it has been used before in a study that looked at how items on the space station change over time. As a result, the mission control center - Axiom was validated as a site for the operation of METADs by NASA.

The staff

The flying astronauts are all private individuals, with mission manager Michael Lopez-Alegria, a former NASA astronaut. The other three team members, Larry Connor, Ethan Stiva and Mark Fathy, are described by the company as "entrepreneurs" and "investors".
But if you think of a stereotype of an investor in a suit flying into space, think again. The background of these three people is very impressive and surpasses that each of them could have already been chosen as an astronaut of a space agency, with a private pilot and a military pilot among them.
Looking further into their backgrounds, it is clear that philanthropy is at the heart of the people chosen for this mission, and each of them is known for giving back to their community. As part of this, the astronauts plan to conduct research while on the space station that will examine how spaceflight will affect the health of future astronauts - including the impact on vision, pain and sleep. Experiments in growing food are also planned - these are all contemporary issues that need to be explored for future private space initiatives.

This is a very positive and welcome step forward. Data collected by space agencies is usually available to researchers (usually after a certain period of time). If private research operators are willing to behave this way, it will herald a period of acceleration in research and technology.

First private space station

The Ax-1 mission is the first part of Axiom Space's plan to build the first private space station. This is no small matter: the International Space Station itself had to be built in parts and then launched for assembly in space. It is impossible to launch into space the total mass of a space station, 420 tons, in one flight. By comparison, that's like launching 70 Webb space telescopes at once.

Completing the space station took ten years and thirty launches. Axiom's plan is to build its space station actually in the International Station, and start with a residential module (Axiom Hub One), which will be launched according to the estimate in 2024. Undoubtedly, as soon as this module starts operating, more modules will be added to it when money enters the company.

The International Space Station is planned to go out of service sometime after 2030, and an open and international space station will be needed. The maintenance of a space station is very expensive, and NASA and the European Space Agency at the very least will probably pay rent to use the facilities of such a private space station.

Many private companies will follow the Ax-1 mission to make a decision whether to continue with their plans. Success means that there could suddenly be an influx of investments and plans for future space station modules or entire stations. If this is what happens, space agencies will have to accept the fact that they cannot compete with the private sector. Instead, they will act wisely if they focus on renting private spaces and conducting research that is accessible to everyone.

I wish the first four private astronauts success in their mission and hope they bring back a lot of data in both studies for the general public to learn from.

For an article in The Conversation

8 תגובות

  1. Response to Ipsum: Free initiative led the great explorers to brutally exterminate the civilizations of Central America and kill millions. Free enterprise and greed led the British to flood the Chinese Empire with opium to crush its economy and create dependence on British products. The slave trade was one of the wonders of the free market and the products of the economic boom of the West. Free initiative is the driving force in the economic conduct that brings about the climate disaster and possibly the end of the world as we know it. So I would not want to hang the future of humanity on the capricious good will of individual people whose only talent is to make money for themselves (sometimes, as in the case of Stiva, by a dubious arms trade - in fact a dealer of death). The power should be in the hands of governments and responsible public bodies.

  2. First, there was nothing capitalistic about the Muppets' "pigs in space" (or the Muppets' pigs at all, the creators loved pig puppets).

    Second, free initiative in space is better than the takeover of the autocratic Chinese monster, led by the Communist Party, for all the damage and disaster that implies. With the modern Western lack of personality in the face of the world's problems, we walk confidently on the way there, while despising the free initiative western culture that brought us to explore the world.

    Third, is the US really able to step into Russia's shoes and maintain the Russian parts of the station? Including discovering and laying woodpeckers, and maintenance for the more exotic equipment there? Do Americans and Europeans have a connection point to the station that operates on the center of mass? Because if they don't have it, they will only be able to create a rotational torque for the station and not move it, let alone change its course in an emergency to avoid a meteor strike, or raise it to a higher orbit. Alternatively, they will have to build an interface to the Russian connection point. Do they know how to do it? And if not, will they be able to build the proper hardware to do it without ten year delays?

  3. In the TV series "The Muppets" there was a section called (capitalist) pigs in space. It is moral and economic bankruptcy to put the future of humanity in the hands of private individuals subject to the generosity of their hearts (for now). At least one of them has blood on his hands. - a man who once made his fortune in the arms trade with dictatorial regimes and now enjoys the image of a philanthropist

  4. It's disgusting that an arms dealer who sells dictators ways to kill is glorified here. What is he looking for in space, to laugh at the dead?

  5. It is still possible to raise the height of the station using the engines of spaceships docked there - manned or cargo spaceships. They will take more of a margin of safety.

  6. NASA and the Europeans and Axiom will have to recalculate a trajectory if the Russians do abandon the space station. The space station has Russian components and it cannot function without them. Without their regular maintenance the station will become dangerous and it will be necessary to disable it and allow it to enter the atmosphere earlier than planned. The alternative is to quickly produce replacement components and launch them and replace the existing ones - and it's hard to see that happening in two or three years.

  7. The space station was built on the basis of the idea that technological capabilities would be developed there, the most important being the production of super clean crystals for microelectronics. It was a lie. They didn't even try to produce such crystals on the space station. The main purpose masked by this lie was different for each body: NASA wanted to continue megalomaniac projects. The US Congress, the European and Russian governments wanted to show that each was stronger, bigger and more important. The Webb Space Telescope had to compromise on the scraps left over from the budget, and was delayed for many years because of it. The Web is supposed to develop our scientific knowledge of the universe significantly, as the Vanity did before it.
    It seems to me that a private space station financed by business companies is a pipe dream. The last launch was also mostly funded by NASA. Private companies operate for profits. will not be in space. The only business thing I can think of is advertising, like milk used to be. But you can't advertise without a break using the same gimmick.
    In my opinion, it is important to invest in space for the purposes of developing technologies for staying in space, for the future need of the spread of the human race to Mars, perhaps in 100 years, and the transformation of Mars into a planet that can sustain a human population, perhaps in 1000 years.

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