Ax-1 training
The four members of the Ax-1 crew (right) undergo training at NASA's Johnson Space Center for their commercial mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Axiom Space

LAS VEGAS — The three private astronauts on Axiom Space’s first mission to the International Space Station next February will perform more than 100 hours of research on their flight as the company works to advance plans for its own space station.

Axiom Space announced Nov. 17 that the three customers it is flying on the Ax-1 mission, scheduled for launch Feb. 21 on a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, will perform 25 experiments during the roughly one week they will spend on the station.

Larry Connor, an American real estate entrepreneur, will be conducting research for the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic. That research will focus on heart health and the effects of space environment on spinal and brain tissue.

Mark Pathy, chief executive of a Canadian investment firm, will conduct research for several Canadian organizations. That work includes research on chronic pain and sleep disturbances experienced by space travelers, studies on changes in visual acuity, and Earth observation for climate change and ecology research.

Eytan Stibbe, a former Israeli Air Force pilot who is the founding partner of an “impact investment” fund, will do research for the Ramon Foundation and Israel Space Agency. He will conduct a suite of experiments in a wide range of disciplines as part of a mission called “Rakia” by its Israeli sponsors.

Axiom executives emphasized the research focus on the mission. “It’s the first commercial mission to the ISS. It’s a pathfinder and it’s very research focused,” said Christian Maender, in-space manufacturing and research director at Axiom, during a panel discussion at the ASCEND conference by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Nov. 17. “They’re going to be adding an increasingly complex number of projects to the ISS during their mission.”

Axiom’s three customers will be joined on that mission by Michael López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut who will be commander of the mission. The four are currently in training for the mission, including at the Johnson Space Center.

Ax-1 is the first in a series of private missions Axiom has planned before installing a commercial module there as soon as 2024. Maender said the company is targeting the third quarter of 2022 for its Ax-2 mission, with former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson as commander and one customer, John Shoffner, as pilot. The company has not announced the other two people flying that mission, and NASA has not confirmed that launch date.

“We’re doing these series of missions in order to do a couple of things,” Maender said. “First, to develop markets, but also to do pathfinder work towards what is eventually our Axiom station.”

Axiom plans to install a series of modules on the ISS starting in 2024, building up a commercial segment that will eventually be separated from the ISS to form a commercial station. That could happen as soon as 2027, he said. “We’ll be ready to separate when the business drives us to separate and also when the lifetime of ISS decides that maybe it’s time to go,” he said.

“We applaud the Ax-1 crew’s commitment to advancing scientific inquiry and kicking off this civilizational leap,” said Michael Suffredini, president and chief executive of Axiom Space, in a statement. “We’re confident this mission will become not just a monumental moment in space travel, but the true beginning of making space’s potential for meaningful discovery available to private citizens and organizations for the first time.”

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...