Main Engine Cut Off

NASA Selects Axiom for ISS Node 2 Expansion

Big-yet-expected news. I talked with Dr. Mike Baine, Chief Engineer of Axiom, last May about their plans, and they sure seemed liked the favorite to win access to Node 2. A few interesting tidbits from their announcement:

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.

The first module is due to launch in 2024 (make sure you watch their animation of the development of Axiom Station), but sounds like we’ll see some flights before that goes up. Both the timing and the frequency of those missions seems synced up with the NASA Private Astronaut Missions policy:

As part of NASA's mission to stimulate a low-Earth orbit (LEO) economy, NASA is enabling up to two short-duration private astronaut missions per year to the International Space Station beginning as early as 2020. Private astronaut missions will be privately funded, dedicated commercial spaceflights on a commercial launch vehicle dedicated to the mission to enable private astronauts to conduct approved commercial and marketing activities on the space station (or in a commercial segment attached to the station). These missions must use U.S. transportation vehicles certified by NASA, such as the ones developed by Boeing and SpaceX under NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

The thing I’m left wondering is whether these missions will be bought as an additional seat on already-scheduled Commercial Crew flights, or whether they will be flown on separate flights.

Continuing from the Axiom press release:

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

We can guess at each of their roles from what we already know:

  • Boeing could be working on the berthing mechanisms, as they are doing for Nanoracks’ airlock
  • Thales Alenia is likely building the pressure vessels, as they do for Cygnus and again, for Nanoracks’ airlock
  • Maxar is likely working on some sort of robotics—I see a robotic arm in the free-flying Axiom Station renderings
  • Intuitive Machines says they are “the system’s integrator and lead developer of a commercial space station” on their website, and the photo shows the Axiom mockups, so there’s that

I’m really excited to watch this project move forward. It’s a distinctly 2020s project, and has the feeling of something we’ll remember in the long view of space history.