NASA plans to abandon the International Space Station sometime in the 2020’s and a startup company wants to use the pieces to build humanity’s first commercial outpost in orbit.
Axiom Space LLC plans to attach a module to the ISS in 2020 and use that as a jumping off point to construct the world’s first commercial space station, vice president Amir Blachman told Space.
“We’re the private company that’s going to continue the ISS legacy, so to speak.”
Co-founded last year by Michael Suffredini, a former NASA manager of the ISS, Axiom intends to fund their venture in low Earth orbit by renting out space to astronauts and companies from around the world.
The commercial outpost would serve as a platform for the developing low Earth orbit economy. Room on the station will be available for tourists, research teams, in-space manufacturing companies, and deep space exploration system testing.
The ISS is currently funded through 2024 and NASA hopes to keep the station operational until 2028, but after that, the space agency plans to deorbit the $100 billion structure and that’s where Axiom comes in.
Instead of ditching the station, which took several years and multiple launches to complete, the company plans to cannibalize the ISS to help build the Axiom International Commercial Space Station, according to the company website.
“Axiom Space is the only company in the world equipped to provide NASA-level astronaut training and all operations required to keep astronauts and tourists safe and productive on orbit.”
Although it’s not official yet, Axiom wants to use an ISS storage module, a robotic arm called the Canadarm2, and the cupola module.
The company’s Module 1 is set to be launched in late 2020 with living quarters for seven astronauts and an adapter for SpaceX and Boeing supply ships to dock. When the ISS is retired Module 1 will serve as the core of a new commercial space station and link up with other Axiom modules and possibly old pieces of the space station, Suffredini told SpaceNews.
“What we would like to do is fly a module that begins its life at the International Space Station. That will help us transition from research and manufacturing and everything else done on ISS on a future platform.”
Axiom plans to send astronauts to the ISS beginning in 2019 with training beginning in 2017. The company envisions a massive city in orbit above Earth housing 100 people working in space by the mid 2030s.
They’re not the only company looking to build commercial space stations in low Earth orbit. Bigelow Aerospace plans to use inflatable habitats to build hotels in orbit for space tourists, billionaire Robert Bigelow told Space.
“Hopefully, if we’re successful in the private-sector community, NASA’s going to save a boatload of money, on multiple locations [in orbit], not just one, with more volume than they’ve ever had before. So, whether it’s Axiom or us or other people, that is the future.”
Bigelow launched two unmanned prototype space stations, Genesis 1 and 2, into orbit in 2006 and 2007 and attached an inflatable module to the ISS last year. In 2020, the company plans to launch two huge standalone inflatable space stations atop United Launch Alliance rockets.
Companies, spacefaring nations, and space tourists will be able to rent these private stations rather than pay all the operating costs themselves; NASA currently spends about $7.5 million every day to house astronauts on the ISS.
China is also getting into the business of building space stations. The country has launched two small space stations of its own, although one is expected to plummet back to Earth, and has plans to construct and operate a 60-ton station by 2022. There are also plans for a solar-powered Chinese rover to land on Mars in 2020.
[Featured Image by NASA/Getty Images]