COLORADO SPRINGS — Axiom Space has introduced a new program to allow countries to create human spaceflight programs without needing to develop their own infrastructure or other capabilities.
The Axiom Space Access Program, announced April 17, offers countries a tiered approach to conducting research on the International Space Station or Axiom’s future commercial space station, as well as flying their own astronauts.
The program is effectively a “space program in a box,” said Tejpaul Bhatia, chief revenue officer at Axiom, in an interview during the 38th Space Symposium. “The real key is that turnkey access at affordable, sustainable and predictable rates.”
In the base tier, Axiom provides countries with advice and insight, and gives those countries priority access on upcoming missions. The second tier enables research and development activities by counties. The third tier offers human spaceflight missions on a regular basis. A fourth tier offers countries the ability to co-develop parts of Axiom’s station.
The first country to join the program is Azerbaijan, which will work with Axiom on satellite solutions and inspiring students to pursue space research and development activities. New Zealand and Uzbekistan are also participating, as well as Rakia Mission, an Israeli space education and research organization involved with the Ax-1 private astronaut mission to the ISS a year ago.
Italy is another nation working with Axiom through a partnership that dates back to 2018. An Italian astronaut is slated to fly on Axiom’s Ax-3 mission to the ISS, currently scheduled for late 2023. Two astronauts from Saudi Arabia are flying on the Ax-2 mission in May.
“Everything to date has been very a la carte with the customers, and it’s built off the old model of cost per kilogram,” Bhatia said. “Now we’re trying to build long-term relationships with them.”
Governments make up one part of the overall customer base Axiom foresees for its commercial ISS modules and future space station. “There’s a limited set of customers, you know who the buyers are and they have budgets,” he said.
Private astronauts make up the second part of the market. “They want to go. They find us,” he said. “It’s not about convincing them they should go. It’s about how you get them to go.”
The third, and potentially biggest, part of the market is corporations. “That’s the future of Axiom, where the value really gets created, like the internet,” Bhatia said.
The challenge there is convincing companies that they can conduct research and development in space that will be profitable. “There’s a big jump from the science experiments that have been done in space and reports on the potential return to a CEO of a Fortune 100 company being able to go out to Wall Street analysts and say, ‘I’m going to make this big investment,” he said.
The key is convincing companies that space offers an “internet moment” for their industries. “It’s still experimental, it’s still emotional,” he said. One way to open those commercial markets, he suggested, is to find company executives who are personally passionate about space and willing to take a chance on space research.
“As soon as that hits,” he said, “everyone in that sector is going to want to do it.”