Saudi gets pair of SpaceX astronaut seats from Axiom

SpaceX

Three sources with knowledge of the proposal say that Saudi Arabia intends to send two astronauts to the International Space Station on a spacecraft made by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, making it the most recent Gulf country to deepen its connections with American private space enterprises.

The arrangement was reportedly made earlier this year in secret with Houston’s Axiom Space, which organises and handles private journeys to space aboard American spacecraft for researchers and tourists. The sources requested anonymity to discuss the mission’s crew before it was formally announced.

According to the agreement, two Saudi astronauts will board SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule and go to the space station in early 2019 for an approximately one-week stay. The Saudis would be the first citizens of their nation to travel to space in a personal spacecraft.

Axiom was silent at the time. The Saudi Space Commission, Riyadh’s 2018-founded space body, did not immediately have any spokespersons available for comment.

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As the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the U.S. space agency now heavily focused on returning humans to the moon, looks to commercialise the United States’ decades-old human spaceflight presence in low-Earth orbit, private U.S. companies have increasingly played a key role in sending astronauts to the space station.

The agreement would be the most recent to place businesses like Axiom in a distinctive diplomatic position formerly held primarily by governmental organisations like NASA. A football field-sized laboratory 250 miles (400 km) above Earth, the space station has hosted multinational astronaut crews for more than 20 years.

According to the reports, the Saudi astronauts will join the two Americans who had already been named, Peggy Whitson, a retired NASA astronaut, and John Shoffner, a racing car driver and investor. The project, dubbed Ax-2, will be Axiom’s second space trip.

A NASA-chaired panel comprising the space station’s participating stakeholders and nations, including Russia, Canada, Japan, and the European Space Agency, has not yet given its approval to the commercial astronauts aboard Ax-2, a U.S. official said.

Deals with foreign governments are viewed by Axiom and other space corporations as essential to maintaining a business focused on sending humans into space. People-in-space missions are a luxury for affluent thrill-seekers and a source of pride and motivation for aspirant space powers like Saudi Arabia.

In April, Axiom flew its first private mission to the space station. A four-person crew, including a Canadian investor and an Israeli businessman, travelled to the station in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule.

Additionally, Turkey and Axiom struck a contract on Monday to send the nation’s first two astronauts into space in late 2023. According to an individual familiar with the flight, that will probably be for mission Ax-3.

For Axiom’s larger objectives of establishing its own private space station by the middle of the decade, astronaut flight business is essential experience. When the current international laboratory is shut down around 2030, it intends to first link modules to the International Space Station before separating into a wholly private construction.

Axiom’s Saudi agreement’s worth was unclear. On the first mission of Axiom, each Crew Dragon seat was sold for $55 million.

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