NASA Selects First Commercial Destination Module For Space Station

The Axiom modules are targeted to attach to the International Space Station beginning in the latter half of 2024. Image Credit: Axiom Space

January 27, 2020 – NASA has selected Axiom Space of Houston to provide at least one habitable commercial module to be attached to the International Space Station as the agency continues to open the station for commercial use.

Co-founded by space entrepreneur Dr. Kam Ghaffarian and former NASA ISS Program Manager Michael Suffredini, both of whom have in excess of 35 years of human spaceflight experience, Axiom plans to launch a node module, research & manufacturing facility, crew habitat, and large-windowed Earth observatory to form the “Axiom Segment” of the ISS. This new commercial platform will significantly increase the usable and habitable volume of the ISS, provide for novel avenues of research in areas such as isolation studies and Earth observation, and allow a gradual transfer of the innovative work being done on-station to prevent interruptions when the ISS is ultimately retired.

The company targets launch of the first module in the latter half of 2024.

“We appreciate the bold decision on the part of NASA to open up a commercial future in Low Earth Orbit,” Suffredini said.

This selection is a significant step toward enabling the development of independent commercial destinations that meet NASA’s long-terms needs in low-Earth orbit, beyond the life of the space station, and continue to foster the growth of a robust low-Earth orbit economy.

The element will attach to the space station’s Node 2 forward port to demonstrate its ability to provide products and services and begin the transition to a sustainable low-Earth orbit economy in which NASA is one of many customers. NASA and Axiom next will begin negotiations on the terms and price of a firm-fixed-price contract with a five-year base performance period and a two-year option.

“Axiom exists to provide the infrastructure in space for a variety of users to conduct research, discover new technologies, test systems for exploration of the Moon and Mars, manufacture superior products for use in orbit and on the ground, and ultimately improve life back on Earth. As we build on the legacy and foundation established by the ISS Program, we look forward to working with NASA and the ecosystem of current and future international partners on this seminal effort,” said Suffredini.

Developing commercial destinations in low-Earth orbit is one of five elements of NASA’s plan to open the International Space Station to new commercial and marketing opportunities. The other elements of the five-point plan include efforts to make station and crew resources available for commercial use through a new commercial use and pricing policy; enable private astronaut missions to the station; seek out and pursue opportunities to stimulate long-term, sustainable demand for these services; and quantify NASA’s long-term demand for activities in low-Earth orbit.

“Axiom’s work to develop a commercial destination in space is a critical step for NASA to meet its long-term needs for astronaut training, scientific research, and technology demonstrations in low-Earth orbit,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “We are transforming the way NASA works with industry to benefit the global economy and advance space exploration. It is a similar partnership that this year will return the capability of American astronauts to launch to the space station on American rockets from American soil.”

NASA selected Axiom from proposals submitted in response to a solicitation through Appendix I of NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) 2 Broad Agency Announcement, which offered private industry use of the station utilities and a port to attach one or more commercial elements to the orbiting laboratory.

Axiom was founded in 2016 with the purpose of expanding human civilization into Earth orbit. In addition to building and launching the Axiom Segment, the company will launch crewed flights to the ISS and later the ISS/Axiom complex at a rate of about two to three flights per year.  Shortly before ISS is retired, Axiom will launch its large power platform to provide the Axiom Segment power and cooling that ISS previously provided.

When the ISS reaches its decommissioning date, the Axiom Segment will detach and continue as a free-flying, internationally available commercial space station. This station will have been built at a fraction of the cost of ISS, the elimination of whose operating costs will enable NASA to dive headlong into a new era of exploration.

Because commercial destinations are considered a key element of a robust economy in low-Earth orbit, NASA also plans to issue a final opportunity to partner with the agency in the development of a free-flying, independent commercial destination. Through these combined efforts to develop commercial destinations, NASA is set to meet its long-term needs in low-Earth orbit well beyond the life of the station.

The agency will continue to need low-Earth orbit microgravity research and testing to enable future missions to the Moon and Mars, including the arrival of the first woman and next man on the Moon with the Artemis III mission as part of the agency’s Artemis lunar exploration plans.

Team Axiom also includes Boeing, Thales Alenia Space Italy, Intuitive Machines, and Maxar Technologies.