What happens when the International Space Station is de-orbited? How will we continue to learn about and research space in person? Both of these questions are closer than not to needing to be answered. Right now, the ISS is funded through 2024, and NASA is hoping to have that extended to 2028. But, supporting astronauts on the ISS is a major financial burden. It costs around $7.5 million a day to support astronauts aboard the ISS, and in total, the ISS has been a $100 billion, 30 year project that may be coming to its end. So, what comes next?
Elon Musk and SpaceX have already launched their own rockets into space, but the real answer lies with Axiom Space. They are currently in the process of creating the Axiom International Commercial Space Station. Their plans right now puts them in the position to be the “ISS’s international, privately owned successor by 2020. The company has already been in communication with 20 different countries around the world, and is partnered with Made In Space, a US company who has been creating 3D printed objects and products currently aboard the ISS.
Axiom’s International Commercial Space Station will be an updated ISS. They have researched the functions and life support systems of the current ISS, and believe they can create a modernized version that will be in space long after the ISS is de-orbited.
Commercial space travel has been a highly talked about topic for the last few years, but figuring out how to do it has been hard. Axiom believes they can support their station through in-space manufacturing, microgravity research and tourism, and in-space supply logistics. While it has taken a lot of investment to get to the point, investors believe that the revenue streams to support this project are there.
However, Axiom is not the only company currently investing in “space habitats.” Bigelow Aerospace has been testing their “Bigelow Aerospace Bigelow Expandable Activity Module” with a more tourism driven motive. They have been working with NASA and have started the testing for space tourism and space hotels. It is still unclear though if this would be for public use or for training and practice for future astronauts.
These projects currently have two different views, but could very much end up joining forces and building on each other to redefine the meaning of space travel. Axiom is more geared towards a scientific approach, wanting to further space research by providing a privately funded space station that would really come into play once the current International Space Station’s funding stops. Bigelow’s view is more towards “expanding humanity’s footprint.” Their designs feature expandable modules that are compressed when launched, but inflate upon arrival at their destination. These modules are much bigger than those the ISS has right now, and the ones Axiom is planning on using.
Though their designs and research have been separate, both Axiom and Bigelow are planning on having their modules ready for launch by 2020. To do this, they both plan on starting astronaut training sometime this year. The people aboard Axiom’s Space Station will go through the same rigorous training as the current and past astronauts aboard the ISS.
Right now, both projects are aimed towards furthering space exploration and research rather than space tourism. However, this seems to be the first step towards private space travel that may one day be available to everyone.