SpaceX signs bulk deal for three private Crew Dragon missions


SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule will launch three more private astronaut missions through 2023 under a bulk deal signed this week with mission manager Axiom Space, the companies announced on Wednesday. While specific terms have not been disclosed, it marks one of the largest deals to date in the burgeoning private space industry and sets a busy ISS schedule for years to come.

The three missions, approximately six months apart, come after Axiom’s maiden voyage on Crew Dragon in January next year, during which an “all civilian” crew flies to the International Space Station for eight days. Ax-2, the second mission, is led by former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson. Crews for Ax-3 and 4 have not yet been announced. All flights include similar stays on the ISS.

Axiom declined to disclose the value of the agreement, which had been months in the making and officially signed with SpaceX in recent weeks. SpaceX did not return an email asking for comment. The timing and parameters of missions are subject to approval from NASA, which manages the ISS schedule, as well as a panel of NASA’s international space station partners.

“A new era in human spaceflight has dawned,” SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement. “The growing partnership between Axiom and SpaceX will open up more opportunities for more people in space on their way to making humanity multiplanetary,” SpaceX said of the Axiom deal on its website, referring to founder Elon Musk’s main goal to get to Mars. to colonize.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule sits atop a Falcon 9 rocket at the company’s 39A launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Image: NASA / Joel Kowsky

For Houston-based Axiom, founded in 2016 by veteran NASA ISS executive Mike Suffredini, these first Crew Dragon trips to the space station will serve as “precursor missions” ahead of the company’s core project to build commercial ISS modules, the first of which is scheduled for installation in 2024. Axiom CEO Suffredini said these missions will keep the company on track for those commercial space station plans.

All four crews will receive combined commercial astronaut training from NASA and SpaceX, with SpaceX providing training on the Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft, emergency preparedness training, entry and exit exercises for spacesuits and spacecraft, as well as partial and full simulations.” SpaceX reports that.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule was developed with a mix of private funds and an approximately $3 billion NASA contract in the agency’s Commercial Crew program, which was started to increase America’s ability to ship crews from American soil to the United States. launch space after a decade of reliance on Russian missiles . SpaceX has launched three government astronaut crews under that program since May 2020, with four more planned in the future. Boeing, the second company under that program, is further behind on its Starliner capsule, which will fly with its first astronaut crew by the end of the year.

Adding four Axiom-arranged Crew Dragon missions on top of the SpaceX crew’s commercial cadence would make for a busy schedule for the ISS, which has just two docking ports that Compatible with Crew Dragon, a cargo version of Crew Dragon, and Boeing’s Starliner. With Starliner flights planned ahead and NASA stating it allows only two private astronauts’ flights to the ISS per year, it’s unclear whether all four Axiom missions would be approved for flights through 2023. NASA did not immediately respond to an email. email asking for comment.

“We remain extremely busy aboard the International Space Station,” NASA’s ISS program manager Joel Montalbano said Wednesday during a news conference about SpaceX’s cargo mission launching tomorrow. “NASA’s partnership with the commercial industry is changing the way we look at low Earth orbit.”