SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule is set to launch three more private astronaut missions up until 2023. This has been confirmed after the space company signed a bulk deal this week with mission manager Axiom Space.
SpaceX Bulk Deal
On June 2, the two companies signed the deal, and even though the terms were not disclosed, it marks one of the biggest deals yet in the private spaceflight industry, and it makes for a hectic ISS schedule until 2023, according to CNBC.
The three missions are paced six months apart, and it will come after Axiom's first ride on Crew Dragon in January 2022, flying an all-civilian crew to the International Space Station for eight days.
Ax-2, which is the second mission, will be led by former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson. The crews for Ax-3 and 4 have not been announced yet. All of the flight will involve similar stays on the ISS.
Axiom refused to disclose the value of the agreement with SpaceX. All that is known is that the deal was in the works for months.
SpaceX did not respond to the news publication, The Verge, which sought a comment over the deal. The timing and parameters of the missions are still yet to be approved by NASA. NASA manages the ISS schedule, as well as a panel of NASA's international space station partners.
Road to Mars
SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement that the deal signals a new era in human spaceflight. He added that the growing partnership between Axiom and SpaceX will enable more opportunities for more humans in space on the road to making humanity multi-planetary, referring to Elon Musk's goal of sending people to Mars.
For Axiom, which was founded in 2016 by NASA ISS manager Mike Suffredini, these initial Crew Dragon treks to the space station will serve as precursor missions ahead of Axiom's main project of creating commercial ISS modules, the first of which is planned for installation in 2024. Suffredini said that these missions keep the company on track for those commercial space station plans.
SpaceX added that all four crews will receive combined commercial astronaut training from NASA and SpaceX, with SpaceX providing training on the Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 launch vehicle, emergency preparedness training, spacecraft and spacesuit ingress and egress exercises, as well as partial and full simulations.
SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule was created under private funds, and a $3 billion NASA contract in NASA's own agency called Commercial Crew Program, which was started to revive America's ability to launch crews to space from the country after years of being dependent on Russia.
SpaceX has launched three crews of government astronauts under the program since 2020, with four more planned in the future. The second company under the program, Boeing, is further behind with its Starliner capsule, which is scheduled to fly its first astronaut crew by the end of 2021.
Starliner flights are already planned ahead, and NASA stated that it allows only two private astronaut flights to the ISS per year. It is unclear whether all four Axiom missions would get approved for flight through 2023.
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Written by Sophie Webster