More details are beginning to emerge on Houston-based Axiom Space’s ambitious project to build and operate the world’s first commercial space station.
Thales Alenia Space, a European aerospace manufacturer, will develop the Axiom space station’s two pressurized modules. The two elements, which are scheduled to launch in 2024 and 2025, will eventually dock at the International Space Station before separating and operating as fully independent, commercial stations.
The two companies on Thursday announced the signing of a final contract worth €110 million ($130 million). Each module will be able to accommodate four people. Thales will also design micrometer and debris protection systems for each module.
The modules are still in their design phase, Thales Alenia said. The company recently completed development of the first module’s four radial bulkheads at its facility in Turin, Italy. The bulkheads once connected will form a cylinder. That structure would be connected to the common berth mechanism, parts of the module that would connect to the ISS and the hatch.
Two modules have a long road ahead of them. Thales Alenia, a joint venture between French company Thales Group and Italian conglomerate Leonardo, will begin welding on the first module from this September to next year. That module will be sent to Axiom’s Texas facilities in July 2023, where Axiom will then integrate the core system and prepare it for launch in 2024.
NASA used Axiom to build the first commercial living quarters for the ISS in January 2020. Once the ISS is inactivated, Axiom’s station will be isolated and serve as a commercial hub for future missions and scientific experiments. It is a major part of NASA’s plans to encourage the development of a low-Earth orbit economy and the construction of other private orbital laboratories and commercial facilities.
Axiom will also operate the first fully private mission to the ISS, scheduled for January 2022. Axiom Mission 1 will send four private astronauts into space aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon for an eight-day mission.