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NASA has agreed to send the space station's second all-private crew in 2023

SpaceX's Crew Dragon Endeavour with the Axiom-1 crew docks to the International Space Station on Saturday, April 9, 2022. (Image credit: NASA TV)
SpaceX's Crew Dragon Endeavour with the Axiom-1 crew docks to the International Space Station on Saturday, April 9, 2022. (Image credit: NASA TV)

The second all-private trip to the International Space Station (ISS) is still in the planning stages. Axiom Space, located in Houston, is planning that voyage, Ax-2, a joint venture with SpaceX that will transport four astronauts to the ISS for a 10-day stay. The project will expand on Axiom's historic Ax-1 mission, which launched and landed in April. If all goes as planned, Ax-2 will be released around a year after its predecessor: NASA and Axiom announced on Wednesday (Aug. 31) that the next mission will launch in spring 2023. The update also indicated that the two organizations had signed a "mission order" for Ax-2, confirming some of the flight's specifics.

Axiom is acquiring services from NASA like as crew supplies, cargo delivery to space, storage, and other in-orbit resources for daily usage through the order. The directive also allows for up to one more contingency week onboard the space station.

According to NASA, the order also identifies capabilities that NASA will obtain from Axiom, such as the return of scientific samples that must be kept cold in transit back to Earth, the return of a Nitrogen/Oxygen Recharge System (NORS) tank, the capability for the last-minute return of two cargo transfer bags, and up to 10 hours of the private astronaut mission commander's time during the docked mission to complete NASA science or perform NASA tasks.

The four astronauts on Ax-2 will launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and travel to and from the space station in a Dragon capsule, as did the Ax-1 crew. According to Axiom, the mission commander will be record-breaking former NASA astronaut and current Axiom consultant Peggy Whitson, with investor John Shoffner filling the second seat. The identity of the other two prospective crewmembers, who presumably will be paying customers like Shoffner, have not been divulged by Axiom. And the word "proposed" is important here because NASA and the other ISS partners have not yet formally accepted the Ax-2 crewmembers. However, that should happen quite soon; Ax-2 crew training is slated to begin this autumn, according to NASA officials in the report.

All commercially crewed trips to the ISS are presently required to be led by a former NASA astronaut. Ax-1 ticked that box as well; it was directed by Michael López-Alegra, a NASA astronaut corps member who went on three space shuttle flights and one ISS excursion. The Axiom missions are part of SpaceX's growing crewed flight program. Elon Musk's business also has a NASA contract to transport humans to and from the orbiting lab. SpaceX intends to launch Crew-5, the fifth operational flight under this NASA contract, in early October.

And there will be more in the future. NASA also announced on Wednesday that it has given SpaceX $1.4 billion to execute five further crew flights to the orbiting lab, extending the company's commitment to the Crew-14 mission.

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