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Axiom Space unveils AX-1 crew for fully-private SpaceX mission to ISS

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SpaceX’s crew Dragon Endeavor was docked with the International Space Station on July 1, 2020.

NASA

Two investors take part in the first completely private flight to the International Space Station – not as donors, but as passengers.

Houston-based start-up Axiom Space announced Tuesday that real estate investor Larry Connor and Canadian investor Mark Pathy will be flying on their upcoming AX-1 mission. The couple join forces with former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, who will be the flight commander, and former Israeli fighter pilot Eytan Stibbe. Connor will be the pilot of the mission, making him the first private pilot on an orbital space flight.

Axiom signed a contract with SpaceX for the mission last year. Elon Musk’s company should start the purely private crew in January 2022 at the earliest and bring them to the space station with a Crew Dragon capsule. The mission is expensive – $ 55 million per person – but will earn you an eight-day stay on the space station.

“An entire crew has never been a non-professional astronaut,” López-Alegría told CNBC. “This is really groundbreaking and I think it is very important that the mission is successful and safe because we really are paving the way for a lot of things to happen after us.”

López-Alegría flew four times for NASA as a professional astronaut, but now works for Axiom. He’ll lead them through about 15 weeks of training starting this fall, commanding the spaceship and making sure the other three crew members “have a safe and productive time,” he said.

AX-1 was originally scheduled for October 2021, but has been postponed to early 2022. Axiom wants to “fly a few of these missions a year,” added López-Alegría, so that future missions are on deck. There was much speculation that AX-1 would star actor Tom Cruise when NASA announced last year it was working with Cruise to make a movie about the ISS.

Connor has headed the Connor Group since 2003, building the Ohio-based real estate investment firm on more than $ 3 billion in assets. Pathy, who is set to become the 11th Canadian astronaut, is CEO and chairman of the family office fund MAVRIK Corp and chairman of the board of directors of the Montreal-based music company Stingray Group.

Stibbe would be the second Israeli astronaut – the first was Ilan Ramon, a payload specialist aboard the space shuttle Columbia, who was killed in February 2003 when Columbia broke apart on reentry. Stibbe was a close friend of Ramon’s.

AX-1 is “100% no vacation”

While space tourism is an emerging subsector of the space industry, Axiom’s private passengers do not fall into that category.

“We absolutely do not believe that we are space tourists,” Connor told CNBC.

López-Alegría also emphasized that the 10-day mission “is 100% not a vacation for these guys”.

“They’re really focused on making this a mission to promote societal benefit and they’re each working on flight programs,” said Lopez-Alegria. “They work with various institutions, hospitals and other research institutions and make contact while they are up there.”

Each of the three have research missions that they will carry out on behalf of other organizations. Connor works with the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic. Meanwhile, Pathy is working with the Canadian Space Agency and the Montreal Children’s Hospital. After all, Stibbe works on behalf of the Ramon Foundation and the Israeli Space Agency.

“I volunteered as a test person,” said Connor. “We will not be there to be spectators. We will do research there and hopefully create added value for the people.”

Connor and Pathy experienced SpaceX’s first astronaut launch together, the Demo 2 mission in May, which was the first rocket launch that both had seen in person.

The private journey into space

The spaceship Crew Dragon Resilience in the hangar in front of the Crew-1 mission

SpaceX

SpaceX developed Crew Dragon through extensive NASA funding. The spaceship was built to fly astronauts to and from the ISS in low-earth orbit. SpaceX has launched two astronaut crews for NASA so far, including the first operational mission called Crew-1 in November.

Although NASA helped develop it, Musk’s company owns and operates the spacecraft and rocket – Axiom manages the mission and prepares the astronauts for launch.

The AX-1 crew has not yet started their formal training, but Connor said they stopped by SpaceX headquarters in Los Angeles to wear a spacesuit and see the spaceship.

“The Crew Dragon capsule is simply outstanding in terms of quality and professionalism,” said Connor. “And you can say that [as a group SpaceX is] exceptionally talented and dedicated to the mission. “

Connor stressed that “NASA and SpaceX have nothing short of a remarkable safety record,” which he checked with his family when considering the risk of going into space.

“We have come to a point where we are not only confident, but also certain that we can fulfill both a valuable and a safe mission,” said Connor.

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 crew members sit in the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft during training. Left to right: NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Oliver and Mike Hopkins and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

SpaceX

AX-1 is expected to use SpaceX’s Crew Dragon “Resilience” starship after it returns from its current Crew-1 mission. While the company regularly lands and reuses its Falcon 9 rocket boosters and Cargo Dragon capsules, AX-1 is likely the first time a Crew Dragon starship has been reused.

“I feel very comfortable with that,” said López-Alegría. “Reusability is something that has always made sense in human space travel.”

An expensive undertaking

The unscrewed SpaceX Crew Dragon spaceship at the International Space Station with an open nose cone reveals its docking mechanism as it approaches the station.

NASA

With a $ 55 million seat, it’s no surprise that the first private space crew includes high net worth individuals like Connor and Pathy. The former said it was “a fair question and concern” that some might criticize private space travel as being only for the ultra-rich.

“We have many national and international problems and challenges, but does that mean we should forget about the future?” Asked Connor. “And if you’re really thinking about the future, my view is that space is the next great frontier. So shouldn’t we be trying to explore this and, in some ways, pioneer this?”

López-Alegría described the mission as “the first crack in the door to the democratization of space” after NASA decided in 2019 to allow private missions to visit the ISS. NASA charges each person on board $ 35,000 per day as compensation for required services such as food and data usage.

“Because of the cost of the flights, it’s not a very democratic population at the moment, but we expect the cost to go down,” said López-Alegría. “At some point we will be able to offer this to the man on the street. It will take a while, but that is the goal and you have to start somewhere.”

For Connor’s part, he asked critics of the private space industry to “think long-term” in 25 years or more.

“Is it going to be that unusual for people to go into space? I think and I hope the answer will be no. So someone has to start, someone has to do the exploration and set the standards, and that’s how hopefully people will look. ” that way, “said Connor.

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Robert Dunfee