Crew Dragon docking
A SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft approaching the ISS. Credit: NASA

WASHINGTON — Axiom Space hopes to soon finalize its first commercial mission to the International Space Station, scheduled for late 2021, as it continues development of a commercial module for the station.

During a panel discussion at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) Oct. 13, Michael Suffredini, president and chief executive of Axiom Space, said his company had lined up the the customers for that first mission, a 10-day flight to the space station on a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2021.

“We have all of our customers identified and we’re about to finish their contracting,” he said. The company previously announced a contract with SpaceX for the flight and is “just about done” with a NASA contract for the mission.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that, by the end of October, we will have everything in place to move forward for a launch in the fourth quarter of 2021,” he said.

That mission is expected to feature three customers along with one Axiom astronaut, Michael Lopez-Alegria, a former NASA astronaut. Axiom has not disclosed who those customers are, although there has been widespread speculation that they will include the actor Tom Cruise. NASA previously confirmed it has been in discussions with Cruise about shooting a movie on the station.

“I recall can’t confirm or deny what’s happening in that regard,” Lopez-Alegria said during a separate IAC panel discussion Oct. 14. “The t’s have yet to be crossed and the i’s have yet to be dotted on all of the contracts, and until such time, we’re not ready to discuss who the other crewmembers will be.”

That mission, he said, will be the “first fully private commercial mission to space, and it’s very exciting for Axiom to be part of it.” While seven people have flown to the ISS as space tourists, all took advantage of available seats on Russian Soyuz missions funded by the Russian government space agency Roscosmos.

Axiom Space is using missions like this as precursors to the series of commercial modules that it is building for the station, after winning a NASA competition to access a docking port there in January. Those modules will form the core of a commercial space station that will detach from the ISS when it reaches the end of its life, currently projected to be 2028 to 2030.

Axiom announced Oct. 22 that it had completed a system requirements review for that initial module, allowing the company to proceed into its preliminary design phase. Axiom plans to launch that module in 2024.

“We think it’s very important to begin attached to the International Space Station,” Suffredini said, in order to help users make the transition from the ISS to a commercial facility. “We believe building a platform attached to ISS, so that the users of the International Space Station, commercial and government, have a place to evolve to, is critically important to the success of growing an economy in low Earth orbit.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...