Axiom Space says it is working with the Saudi Space Commission to send two spacecraft from the Arab Kingdom, including the first Saudi woman to fly into orbit, to the International Space Station as early as next year.
The inclusion of a female astronaut is particularly notable for Saudi Arabia — where women were banned from driving motor vehicles until 2018 and where the status of women is still a contentious issue.
Houston-based Axiom Space and the Saudi Space Commission today announced their partnership at the International Astronautical Congress in Paris. In a press release, the Saudi commission said its participation in Axiom’s Ax-2 mission is part of the nation’s effort to “conduct scientific experimentation and research for the benefit of humanity in priority areas such as health, sustainability and space technology.” It was recognized that the inclusion of a female astronaut “will mark a historic first for the Kingdom”.
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Axiom Space conducted its first commercial mission to the ISS in April. The Ax-1 mission sent three multimillion-dollar investors in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule for a 17-day orbit to the ISS. Ax-2, tentatively scheduled for the first half of 2023, is expected to follow a similar flight schedule.
Two other members of the Ax-2 crew have already been named. Former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson is slated to command the mission, and racing driver John Shoffner has signed on as the mission pilot. Axiom and NASA announced last month that they had signed the mission contract for Ax-2 — and NASA and its space station partners are expected to approve Axiom’s crew selection.
Axiom Space is the first company to take advantage of NASA’s commercial space program established in 2019. Axiom handles the logistics for its manned missions, including arrangements for training, launch, and recovery, with reimbursement to NASA for the space agency’s expenses. Ax-1 customers are said to have paid $55 million each for their ride.
Axiom made several other announcements during the IAC meeting: