NASA, Axiom plan private space mission

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NASA, Axiom plan private space mission
NASA, Axiom plan private space mission

Not an astronaut? Not a problem for the crew members of upcoming Florida space missions.

Aerospace firm Axiom Space Inc. will send four private citizens to the International Space Station from Cape Canaveral as early as January 2022.

This mission, announced by Houston-based Axiom and NASA on May 10, is a precursor for the aerospace industry, Don Platt, director of the Spaceport Education Center at Florida Institute of Technology, told Orlando Business Journal. “It is setting the stage for the future of space stations and, in some ways, the future of space exploration.”

The mission is one of many planned in the next two years to send private-sector astronauts, space tourists and others who are not NASA employees beyond Earth’s orbit from Florida’s Space Coast. These types of missions will be more common as human space exploration increasingly becomes run by private industry with oversight from NASA, Platt said.

Meanwhile, this provides more demand for launches from companies like SpaceX, which is recruiting dozens of high-tech workers in Cape Canaveral.

“You’ll see more private missions, especially in low-Earth orbit,” Platt said. “You’re going to see NASA pedal it off to more commercial groups. SpaceX definitely has shown an interest in flying people who aren’t associated with NASA.”

Axiom contracted SpaceX as its launch provider, and Axiom’s crew will dock with the space station using the Crew Dragon spacecraft built by SpaceX.

This is one of many private space missions in the pipeline for SpaceX, the Hawthorne, California-based rocket company founded by billionaire Elon Musk. The company will launch the first all-civilian space mission from Cape Canaveral this year, and wealthy Japanese art collector Yusaku Maezawa will pick eight people to accompany him on a trip around the moon in a SpaceX Starship in 2023.

SpaceX’s active launch operations in Cape Canaveral create jobs. In fact, the company has 50 local, full-time positions listed on its website. They include high-wage roles like launch engineer and information security analyst.

In addition, Blue Origin LLC, the rocket firm started by Amazon co-founder and world’s richest man Jeff Bezos, on May 5 announced an online auction for one of six seats in the capsule of its New Shepard reusable rocket, to launch from Texas in July. Tickets for trips on Blue Origin rockets are expected to cost at least $250,000.

There is a niche, but still sizable, market for such a trip, said University of Warwick Business School professor and space expert Loizos Heracleous in an analysis. “The cost of these tickets may be beyond the reach of your typical tourist, but there are still millions of potential passengers for these sub-orbital trips.”

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