WASHINGTON — Commercial space station developer Vast Space says it plans to bid on two future NASA private astronaut missions to the International Space Station, providing competition to Axiom Space.

During a panel discussion at the Federal Aviation Administration Commercial Space Transportation Conference Feb. 21, Max Haot, chief executive of Vast, said his company would bid on the fifth and sixth private astronaut missions, or PAMs, that NASA offers to companies seeking to flying commercial missions to the ISS.

“From our point of view, it will make us a better space station builder, a better partner of NASA, and it will help us practice a lot of the disciplines we are building” for its future commercial stations, he said of Vast’s plan to bid on the missions.

Axiom has been the only company selected by NASA for private missions to the station under a policy the agency rolled out in 2019. The company flew its Ax-1 mission to the station in April 2022, Ax-2 in May 2023 and the Ax-3 mission that concluded Feb. 9. NASA selected Axiom for a fourth PAM, Ax-4, scheduled for this fall. The company has previously expressed interest in bidding on future PAM opportunities.

Axiom has been selected for most of those PAM opportunities with little or no competition. In a January 2023 source selection statement, NASA stated that it received proposals only from Axiom for the third and fourth PAM opportunities, which became Ax-3 and Ax-4. Axiom was previously identified as the sole bidder for the second PAM, Ax-2.

Axiom says those missions have helped the company prepare for its commercial space station, beginning with modules it will install on the ISS starting in 2026. “The private astronaut missions are really this incredible learning opportunity both for the federal government and for Axiom,” said Jared Stout, vice president and chief of staff for government and external relations at Axiom, on the panel. “We learn how to operate these missions alongside NASA. We’re able to develop our customer pipelines on science and research.”

During an earlier session of the panel, Michael Lopez-Alegria, a former NASA astronaut who commanded the Ax-1 and Ax-3 missions for Axiom, said the company had “learned a ton” since Ax-1 to Ax-3, working with NASA to tailor the training needed for the missions. “Ax-2 was much better and I think Ax-3 was even better.”

Haot says Vast wants to reap similar benefits as it prepares for its station. “To be able to leverage the ISS and learn, and work closely with NASA, is really a key part of the transition” from the ISS to commercial stations.

Vast is first developing a human-tended single-module station, called Haven-1, that will launch on a Falcon 9. It will be visited by one or more crews on SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. Haot said that the Haven-1 program is fully funded for launch. “It’s launching at the end of next year,” he said. “The challenge is mostly execution.”

Haven-1 is intended to help Vast work on larger space stations it plans to later develop for use by NASA and others. The company is not part of the first phase of NASA’s Commercial LEO Destinations (CLD) program, where NASA is funding initial design work on commercial station concepts but has an unfunded Space Act Agreement with NASA to assist in station development.

Vast intends to bid on the second phase of the CLD program where NASA will certify commercial station designs for use by agency astronauts. “We’re a strong believer that the country should have two space platforms, two space stations,” Haot said. “We’re certainly dedicated to try to be cost effective and creative to allow it.”

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...