NASA selects first habitable commercial module for the ISS
NASA has announced its selection for the first commercial habitat module to be installed on the International Space Station (ISS). Houston, Texas-based Axiom Space will provide the first part of what will eventually become the "Axiom Segment" of the station, consisting of a node module, a research and manufacturing facility, crew habitat, and a large-windowed Earth observatory.
The Monday announcement of the winner of the space agency's NextSTEP-2 Appendix I solicitation marks a new phase in the evolution of the ISS. To be installed in the station's Node 2 forward port under a fixed-price contract still under negotiation, it is part of the US government's policy of encouraging private companies to directly participate in manned spaceflight rather than simply acting as NASA contractors.
When it is installed in 2024, the Axiom module will operate under a five-year base performance period and a two-year option to provide products and services through the NASA policy of making the station available under a new commercial use and pricing policy.
Axiom plans to fly two or three manned missions per year to the ISS but says that this is only the beginning.
The ISS has been building and operating for 21 years, but it is approaching the end of its service life, which is estimated to be around 2030. In anticipation of this closure, Axiom Space says that when the ISS is decommissioned, Axiom will launch a large power system that will be attached to the Axiom Segment, which will then be detached from the space station and become a free-flying, internationally available commercial space station.
According to Axiom, the new station will be much cheaper to build than the ISS, and by replacing the existing station with a private one, NASA will be able to free up the ISS operating costs from its annual budget.
"Axiom’s work to develop a commercial destination in space is a critical step for NASA to meet its long-term needs for astronaut training, scientific research, and technology demonstrations in low-Earth orbit," says NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "We are transforming the way NASA works with industry to benefit the global economy and advance space exploration. It is a similar partnership that this year will return the capability of American astronauts to launch to the space station on American rockets from American soil."