WASHINGTON — Poland has become the second European Space Agency member state to reach an agreement to fly an astronaut on a private mission to the International Space Station.
Axiom Space said Aug. 9 it signed an agreement with Poland, in cooperation with ESA, to fly an astronaut from that nation on a future mission to the ISS. The announcement did not disclose the identity of the astronaut or when that person would go to the station.
“Cooperation with ESA and Axiom Space is an important step in the development of both the Polish space sector and science,” said Waldemar Buda, Poland’s minister of economic development and technology, in a statement. “A Polish astronaut will have the opportunity to test the most advanced Polish technologies.”
At a June 29 briefing after a meeting of the ESA Council, the agency announced that Poland was increasing its subscription to agency programs by 295 million euros ($320 million) which included the flight of a Polish astronaut to the ISS, but did not disclose additional details about those plans.
The most likely candidate for the flight is Sławosz Uznański, who was selected as a reserve astronaut by ESA last November and is the only Polish member of ESA’s astronaut corps. He was among 11 people ESA picked as reserve astronauts, who will not join the astronaut corps on a full-time basis but be available for selected flight opportunities.
Another reserve astronaut, Marcus Wandt, was selected in June to fly on another Axiom Space mission to the ISS through an agreement involving Axiom, ESA and the Swedish National Space Agency first announced in April. Wandt is expected to fly on Axiom’s Ax-3 mission to the ISS in early 2024.
“Poland will be the second ESA-sponsored nation to send an astronaut on a commercial human spaceflight mission, establishing a growing network of nations in Europe eager to explore the benefits of microgravity and positioning the region as pioneers of commercial space,” Michael Suffredini, president and chief executive of Axiom Space, said in a statement.
The agreements by Poland and Sweden with Axiom Space are part of growing interest in human spaceflight in Europe. Walter Villadei, an Italian Air Force pilot who flew on a Virgin Galactic suborbital flight in June, had previously trained as a backup for Axiom’s Ax-2 mission to the station in May and is expected to be named to a future Axiom mission. The Hungarian government announced last November it is spending $100 million for its own private astronaut mission to the ISS.
Both the Italian and Hungarian efforts are taking place, for now, outside of ESA, but the agency sees them as signs of growing interest in human spaceflight in Europe. “Sweden, Poland and many others are now inspired by this ambition to go to space and have an astronaut flying into space,” Josef Aschbacher, director general of ESA, said in an interview in July. “This momentum starts developing, and I can only say it’s nice to see.”
That interest, he said, hay help spur efforts by ESA to establish a more ambitious European human spaceflight program, which could include development of its own crew transportation systems. The agency is currently studying options for such efforts, including their costs, in advance of a European Space Summit scheduled for November in Seville, Spain.