Satellite News Network

Axiom Space eyes the moon while continuing to dream big in Earth orbit

“What do you hope to accomplish in the next 10 years?” is a familiar question, one often asked at job interviews or when starting a new company.

Axiom Space was founded in 2016, so it’s coming up on that 10-year mark — and the Houston-based company has already checked off a lot of boxes that were likely on its milestone list.

For example, Axiom has organized three all-private crewed missions to the International Space Station (ISS) and obtained a NASA contract to send the first commercial module to the ISS. The company is also building the spacesuits that NASA’s Artemis astronauts will use during their exploration of the lunar surface.

Related: NASA’s Artemis program: Everything you need to know

“The biggest points of excitement for me are the missions, the spacesuit and the station,” Tejpaul Bhatia, chief revenue officer at Axiom Space, told during the 39th Space Symposium, which was held last month in Colorado Springs.

“The missions we’ve done — three over the last three years, we’ve sent eight countries to space,” Bhatia added. “We’ve worked with over 50 research and commercial partners who work across those missions, and we will be doing more. The next mission [to the ISS] will be coming up soon, and more nations and more companies will be part of those missions. The excitement and the outreach for reaching everyone to know about space — it’s a new era for space.”

At the beginning of this year, the company’s private Ax-3 mission made history as “the first all-European commercial astronaut mission” to the ISS. The 22-day Ax-3, Axiom’s longest mission yet, sent a citizen of Türkiye to space for the first time and allowed Italy to join with a new role with commercial spaceflight.

While on orbit, a new conjunction warning system developed by the Italian Air Force (ItAF) was used to monitor for possible collision threats. The Italian Space Operations Centre demonstration provided researchers with information that would allow crews to obtain near-real time collision warnings independently, without having to heavily rely on support from Earth. The team was also able to test out other tools that monitor solar activity and space weather.

“The most exciting part is to use all the heritage that Italy has gathered over the last 60 years to build up new bridges along with our national industries and trying to create some connection in between that Italian industrial ecosystem or with the U.S. one,” said Ax-3 pilot Walter Villadei, a colonel in the ItAF. “There’s Air Force; space for us is a kind of an extension of our natural environment, so we want to be there, we want to understand how we are supposed to behave or operate in space. It’s a unique moment in time.”

Axiom’s fourth mission, Ax-4, is scheduled to launch no earlier than this October and will send another crew to the ISS for up to two weeks. Such missions, Axiom says, will continue to build knowledge and skills that contribute to the company’s goal of building and operating the world’s first commercial space station.

Axiom is also building and testing the spacesuit that astronauts will wear on the surface of the moon during NASA’s Artemis 3 mission, which is scheduled to launch in September 2026. A prototype of this suit, known as the Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit (AxEMU), was revealed in March. Like any other space technology, the prototype has to be evaluated and undergo continued alterations before the critical review phase begins in June.

“The suit is supposed to have multiple layers of safety so in case anything happens, you have to be able to react quickly and to minimize your action to get back safe on whatever is going to be your environment,” Villadei said. “It’s a combination of many factors.”

For example, the suit will need to be able to deal with the harsh and variable environments of the lunar surface, in addition to providing mobility and comfort. It also must be able to withstand a wide range of temperatures for a minimum of two hours.

Since the AxEMU prototype unveiling in March 2023, Axiom Space has made substantial progress in suit design and testing. The suit design is beyond the preliminary design review point with NASA and will enter the critical design review phase in June 2024.

The Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit (AxEMU) spacesuit during testing. (Image credit: Axiom Space)

“Inside that suit there are several other systems and subsystems, so we’re bringing in many commercial partners, many that worked on the original spacesuits, but many who are bringing new design elements,” Bhatia said.

“Commercial elements from brands you and I know that you may not think about in terms of space, but it’ll make perfect sense when you hear that they’re part of it,” he added. “I think it’s going to start with looking like a private company working with government institutions, and pretty soon it’s going to flip and you’re going to see a whole economy up in space with brands that we know and love and use every day. There won’t be this thing that this is some other frontier, but it’s actually part of our life.”

Axiom Space could contribute to Artemis missions in additional ways as well; the company is partnering with Astrolab and Odyssey Space Research on the FLEX lunar rover project, one of three private efforts that just received NASA funding for development work. One of these three private designs is expected to become the Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV), which Artemis astronauts will use to drive around on the moon.

“Leveraging our expertise in EVA [extravehicular activity], Axiom Space is leading the way in designing EVA-centric components of the rover, such as vehicle interfaces for both crew and spacesuits, and containers/attachments to carry EVA tools,” Russell Ralston, vice president of Extravehicular Activity for Axiom Space, said in a press release. “This collaboration with Astrolab not only showcases our EVA expertise, but also underscores Axiom Space’s commitment to driving advancements in lunar exploration.”

Exit mobile version