It’s not long since billionaires were competing to get to the “edge of space”. Now, the first set of private citizens is getting ready to take a SpaceX shuttle up to the International Space Station (ISS). Unlike the short “joyrides” of Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, this mission will be reaching the roughly 400km altitude needed to dock with the ISS.
The mission by the US commercial aerospace company Axiom Space is a major step forward in private space travel, and is part of a plan to build a private space station. With Russia recently pulling out of collaborating on the ISS, the world will be watching to see whether the private sector can be trusted to provide reliable access to space for peaceful exploration.
The Ax-1 mission is planned for launch on April 6, using a SpaceX Dragon Endeavour spacecraft – the same as that used by astronauts in 2020 – onboard a Falcon 9 rocket. The mission is planned to last ten days, eight of which will be on the ISS.
With the high altitude and long duration, the preparations have been lengthy. The concept mission has been a plan since the founding of Axiom Space in 2016 by Iranian-American businessman Kamal Ghaffarian (who also founded the private nuclear reactor company X-energy) and Michael T. Suffredini (who’s had a long career at Nasa). And while Nasa is funding some of the costs, each of the four participants is reportedly having to provide their own contribution of $55 million (£42 million) as well.
The onboard astronauts will feel weightless for the majority of the ten days and be at risk from the dangers experienced by all astronauts, including radiation exposure, muscle degradation, and potentially some bone loss. Although with such a short mission, these risks are exceptionally low.