2023 Author: Bryan Walter | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-05-21 22:24
NASA has selected Axiom Space as the company that will build and maintain the first private and commercial habitable module on the International Space Station. In addition, the company is also going to build two more full-fledged modules and one dome module for observing the Earth and the station itself. The first module is expected to go to the ISS in 2024.
The International Space Station is operated by several government space agencies that create and launch modules and conduct research. However, since the construction and maintenance of the station requires huge resources, NASA and other agencies have increasingly attracted private companies to work on the ISS over the past years. For example, part of the research at the station is carried out by order of private traders.
In addition, private companies offer to dock their modules to the ISS for space tourism or other applications. In 2016, the first private module appeared on the ISS, and in addition, it also became the first inflatable. It is assembled from rigid elements of the frame and soft ones, consisting of fabric and insulating materials. After docking with the ISS, the module inflated and significantly increased in size. The main mission of the module is to test the concept of inflatable modules, although in addition to this, it has been used as a cargo compartment.
In the future, NASA plans to use not only experimental modules on the ISS, but also full-fledged ones, which could be used to commercialize the station. To this end, the agency announced the NextSTEP-2 program, within the framework of which NASA selected a company that would have access to the docking station of the Harmony module of the US segment of the ISS.
In late January, NASA officials announced that Axiom Space had been selected to gain access to the site and permission to launch one inhabited module. So far, NASA's decision is of a fundamental nature, and the terms of the contract and exact dates will be agreed in the future.
Habitable module interior
Axiom Space itself expects to send the first module to the ISS in the second half of 2024. It will be a large living space for up to eight crew members. They can be both space tourists and astronauts doing research.
If the tests of the first module are successful, the company plans to add two more similar habitable modules to its segment, as well as a panoramic dome, the volume and total size of the windows of which will exceed those of the Dome module. Before the life of the ISS comes to an end (so far this moment is scheduled for 2024, but it is planned to postpone it to 2028), at least one service module will be attached to the segment, which will allow it to be disconnected from the ISS and turned into an independent station.
Station after completion of the segment construction and undocking from the ISS
Another area that NASA gives to private companies is the delivery of astronauts to the ISS. To do this, even before the last Space Shuttle flight, which took place in 2011, the agency announced a program for the development and operation of private spaceships. Two companies reached the final contract: SpaceX and Boeing. Both companies in 2019 tested their vehicles in unmanned mode, but only SpaceX did them successfully: during the first launch of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner could not enter the calculated orbit and a few days later landed at a military training ground, never reaching ISS.