The first fully private mission to the International Space Station could occur as soon as next year under a deal involving NASA, SpaceX and a small Texas company.
Axiom Space Inc. of Houston said it has signed an agreement with Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. for a Crew Dragon flight for four people to the space station, potentially late next year. The initial trip would last at least eight days and possibly longer, Axiom said Thursday. The company is targeting two flights a year.
If completed, the voyage would mark a major milestone in NASA’s effort to spur greater commercial use of the space station, which orbits at an altitude of 250 miles and has had crew working and living there since late 2000. The Trump administration has been seeking to reduce federal spending on the facility and encourage private enterprise to assume a greater portion of its capabilities and costs.
“This history-making flight will represent a watershed moment in the march toward universal and routine access to space,” Axiom Chief Executive Michael Suffredini said in a statement.
The SpaceX-launched flight would be the first by Axiom, which is based near NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Axiom was founded in 2016 by Suffredini, a former program manager for the space station, and Kam Ghaffarian, an entrepreneur who sells engineering services to NASA.
Any passengers who fly to the station will be approved by NASA and must undergo specific training before the trip. Axiom declined to disclose any pricing for the flights or details of its launch contract. For the flights, Axiom is talking with countries that want to begin a human spaceflight program and also private people with the resources to afford such a trip.
“Thanks to Axiom and their support from NASA, privately crewed missions will have unprecedented access to the space station, furthering the commercialization of space and helping usher in a new era of human exploration,” Gwynne Shotwell, president of Hawthorne-based SpaceX, said in the statement.
Axiom plans to construct a private space station as the ISS moves toward retirement, first attaching its modules to the station with a plan to eventually separate entirely. The company expects to launch its first hardware to orbit in 2024.