Tim Peake on a return to space: 'Never say never'

Bigs up commercial space as ESA prepares for Axiom 3

British astronaut Tim Peake has teased a return to space during an interview in which he doffed his cap to Axiom Space and others in the commercial space sector.

When asked by James O'Brien if he might go back to space, Peake replied: "If you'd asked me that a year ago, I'd have said there perhaps weren't a huge amount of opportunities.

"Actually, right now, I think there's more opportunity than I've even realized. There's a lot happening in the commercial space sector."

Peake highlighted commercial missions to the International Space Station (ISS) flown by Axiom Space and noted the sector is considerably more dynamic nowadays.

"It's really a 'never say never' – there are plenty of opportunities."

Peake decided to step down from the active European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut corps at the beginning of this year after a lengthy sabbatical that started October 1, 2019.

His six-month "Principia" mission kicked off in 2015 and included a spacewalk to work on the ISS's power supply.

After his return to Earth, Peake held several roles within ESA, including the Head of Astronaut Operations, before taking an unpaid leave of absence from the space agency.

In 2022 The Register spoke to Libby Jackson, currently Head of Space Exploration at the UK Space Agency, regarding Peake's future. She was understandably cagey, noting that "the question rests very much with Tim."

Dr David Parker, who was Director of Human and Robotic Exploration at ESA until this year, told The Register in 2020: "The commitment we made to the member states is that all of the astronauts will get a second flight." Peake has only managed one to date.

However, Parker also noted that US commercial crew vehicles would feature prominently in ESA's planning – Peake's mission was conducted with a Russian Soyuz. The last four ESA missions to the ISS have been flown on SpaceX spacecraft.

At the time of writing, Andreas Mogensen – part of the same ESA selection as Peake – is aboard the ISS. Marcus Wandt, from ESA's 2022 astronaut group, will fly next. His mission – Axiom 3 – will be the first commercial mission to include an ESA astronaut.

With the sector changing apace, one cannot blame Peake for keeping an eye on commercial opportunities.

"Just take everything with a pinch of salt," he said, "and keep all doors open."

Just not the airlock, eh, Tim? ®

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