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Axiom signs up with SpaceX to fly private astronauts to the International Space Station

Three 'nauts, one commander to ride Musk's missile for an eight-day stay

Axiom Space has signed a contract with SpaceX to fly three private astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) "as soon as the second half of 2021".

The mission is set to use SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft, which has yet to fly a human crew let alone a tourist, to transport a commander, trained by Axiom, and three paying passengers to the orbiting outpost for an eight-day jaunt.

Former NASA ISS Program Manager and now Axiom CEO Michael Suffredini said the mission "will be just the first of many", describing it as "a first for a commercial entity". The plan is to offer up to two flights per year for professional and private astronauts, aligned to opportunities as they are made available by NASA.

Axiom's bundle comprises a "turnkey service", including the support necessary for two days in transit and "at least" eight days aboard what it called the "venerable" space station.

It does, after all, have grand plans for its own, privately funded station, kicking off in 2024 with an "Axiom Segment" attached to the ISS. Once the orbiting lab finally reaches its expiration date, the plan is for the Axiom complex to detach and do its own thing.

Axiom has already been given the green light, back in January, to attach modules to the ISS's Node 2 Forward port with a view to eventually creating a commercial space station. The addition will increase the usable and habitable volume of the ISS and should ensure humans remain in orbit by the time the ISS is retired.

As well as modules for habitation and commercial applications, Axiom will also need to launch its own power platform to replace that provided by the ISS before the end is reached.

As it finally draws close to launching its first human in the Crew Dragon, SpaceX has been attracting interest from other private outfits, including Space Adventures. That company has form in sending private 'nauts to the ISS, but thus far only plans to take tourists to orbit and back in the Crew Dragon.

There is, however, still that pesky inaugural crewed flight to get through first. It could come as soon as May for SpaceX.

Rival Boeing, who also plans to send crews to the ISS, might be a while longer. After a less-than-optimal test flight in December it and NASA are to host a briefing today regarding "the primary issues detected during the company's uncrewed Orbital Flight Test". ®

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