Private Space Station Could Be In Orbit By 2020

Darien Cavanaugh

The world’s first private space station could be in orbit as soon as 2020, according to a new report by Space.com‘s Leonard David.

Houston-based Axiom Space LLC is working on the Axiom International Commercial Space Station, a low-Earth orbit space station that the company believes will create a “historic shift” in space exploration.

“Work is underway to establish the world’s first private, international commercial space station, a complex that would serve a global community of sovereign and private astronauts,” David writes. “Making a space outpost available to nations, organizations and individuals could help make living and working in Earth orbit commonplace and support the exploration of deep space.”

While the project still has a long ways to go, the company is kicking their timeline into warp drive to be one of the first to pioneer the deployment of private space stations

“We are now deep into conversations with our first nonsovereign astronaut customers,” Axiom Space VP of strategic marketing Amir Blachman told Space.com. “The pace is quick. We’re answering a demand that’s clearly there… The demand is there. The need is there.”

A big part of the demand arises from the fact that the International Space Station could be decommissioned as soon as 2024.

“As you can imagine, we keep our ear very close to the rail on that,” Blachman added.

“We have to operate on the assumption that the ISS could be de-orbited in 2024… perhaps deorbited sometime after that. There are structural and operational limitations, specifically the growing cost to maintain the ISS.”

NASA hopes that the International Space Station, which cost roughly $100 billion, may remain operational until 2028. Either way, a replacement is needed soon, and Axiom Space intends to fill that role.

The long term goals of Axiom go beyond simple space exploration. The company hopes to begin working on in-space manufacturing projects, establishing manufacturing facilities in the Earth’s orbit.

Of course establishing factories in space presents numerous logistical obstacles regarding providing utilities, transporting raw materials to the facility and returning finished products to Earth.

That does not mean there is still not a considerable potential for such endeavors.

“In-space manufacturing provides a unique class of products beneficial to the communications, materials and biomedical industries on Earth,” Axiom Space President and CEO Michael Suffredini said in a company statement quoted by David.

Suffredini knows something about the potential for space exploration and manufacturing. He is a former NASA International Space Station program manager.

Axiom’s plans currently involve training Axiom astronauts beginning this year, sending the first Axiom astronauts to the International Space Station in 2019, where they’ll receive more training, and then attaching an Axiom commercial nodule to the International Space Station in 2020. That module will later be separated from the International Space Station and used as the foundational module for building a new Axiom space station.

The timeframe for the International Space Station being decommissioned is leaving Axiom’s own schedule somewhat fluid and uncertain.

“That all goes back to whether the station is decommissioned in 2024 or later,” Blachman said. “It changes the shape of our cash curve, but it doesn’t change the operability of the business. It’s still a highly profitable and very large business.”

If Axiom truly wants to be the first private space station in orbit, the timing is crucial. The Bigelow Next-Generation Commercial Space Station is also already in the works, and the company building it, Bigelow Aerospace, is looking at a similar timeframe as Axiom.

In May of last year, NASA made the first attempt to deploy the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) on the International Space Station, according to a press release from Bigelow Aeronautics. However, “operations were halted after the BEAM’s performance no longer matched the forecasted models on the ground.”

Bigelow has not announced much progress on the BEAM being installed at the International Space Station since then.

[Featured Image by NASA/Getty Images]