Diverse Axiom-1 R&D Seeks To Boost Space Economy

Left to Right: Ax-1 Pilot Larry Connor, Commander Michael Lopez-Alegria, Mission Specialist Mark Pathy, Mission Specialist Eytan Stibbe
Credit: Axiom Space

Once docked to the International Space Station, Axiom Space’s four private astronauts face a busy eight-day visit intended to demonstrate that human commercial spaceflight is more than just tourism.

Following their April 8 launch aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, the Ax-1 crew—Mike Lopez-Alegria, retired NASA astronaut and Axiom’s vice president for business development; mission pilot Larry Connor, founder of an Ohio-based  real estate investment firm; Eytan Stibbe, an Israeli investor and philanthropist; and Mark Pathy, a Canadian investor and philanthropist—are to rendezvous with the orbital lab early April 9, with a linkup to the U.S. Harmony module’s space-facing docking port planned for 6:45 a.m. EDT.

Once the hatches open, the astronauts will kick off more than two dozen wide-ranging scientific research and technology development activities with value to life on Earth as well as nurturing the space economy.

The overall 10-day mission is a forerunner to Houston-based Axiom’s NASA-sponsored commercial free flying space station.  It’s NASA’s strategy to sustain human low Earth orbit research and technology activities aboard a constellation of commercial free flyers as one of many paying customers while the agency’s human exploration focus shifts to the Moon and eventually Mars.

“As the first step on a path to building a diverse, thriving economy in low-Earth orbit, Axiom has partnered with leaders in academia and industry to bring new users and new investigations in research to the space station,” notes Christian Maender, Axiom Space’s director of in-space manufacturing and research. “The collection of biological and technological tests during the Ax-1 mission represents a breadth of research that will inform everything from human health considerations to novel infrastructure and design for our future homes away from Earth, beginning with Axiom Station.”

According to U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis statistics released in January, the gross economic output of the U.S. space economy reached $194.6 billion in 2019, of which $156.7 billion came from private industries. The overall total is up from $174.8 billion in 2012.

Axiom Station’s assembly is to begin in late 2024, with the launch of the first of several initial modules that will be anchored to the ISS. As the decade progresses, Axiom Station will separate to become an independent outpost. Ax-1 is the first of what Axiom Space intends to be two private astronaut mission launches to the ISS annually.

“This is just the first of several Axiom Space crews whose private missions to the International Space Station will truly inaugurate an expansive future for humans in space and make a meaningful difference in the world when they return home,” predicts Mike Suffredini, Axiom Space cofounder, president and CEO,  whose resume includes serving as NASA’s ISS program manager from 2005 to 2015.

During their stay at the ISS, the Ax-1 quartet plan to conduct a range of research and technology activities while working alongside the current seven-member U.S., European and Russian ISS crew, who themselves are in the midst of a multi-week crew exchange.

Examples of their activities include contributions to Tessellated Electromagnetic Space Structures for the Exploration of Reconfigurable, Adaptive Environments (TESSERAE), an effort to develop technologies for the on orbit self-assembly of structures that range from satellites to space habitats. The private astronauts will evaluate a suite of sensing and electro-permanent magnets intended to drive assembly and monitor the bonds between individual elements of a larger structure.

Their work on TESSERAE is a collaboration with the MIT Media Lab Space Exploration Initiative and the Aurelia Institute.

Using a human stem cell Nano bioreactor and high-resolution microscope, the Ax-1 astronauts will monitor the accelerated growth of cancer stem cells, something possible in the absence of gravity, to evaluate early indications of pre-cancerous activity  and changes to cancerous tumors.

The tumor modeling initiative is on behalf of a collaboration between the University of California, San Diego, and the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine in La Jolla, California.

On behalf of Japan Manned Space Systems Corp., the Ax-1 crew will demonstrate the performance of an advanced air purification filter that uses light as a power source to remove odors and volatile compounds from the ISS atmosphere.

Working with the Traditional Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH), a Baylor College of Medicine, Caltech and MIT consortium, the Ax1- crew are serving as subjects in a collection of  physical and psychological biomedical evaluations that began prior to their launch and will continue after their return to Earth. TRISH is compiling and serving as a centralized database for how spaceflight impacts human health to help prepare for future human long-duration and deep-space travel.

Connor, Stibbe and Pathy are each also flying with individual space research objectives. Connor is working with the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic to assess the effects of spaceflight on overall human health and spine and brain tissues, findings intended to advance health care on Earth as well as provide a look at how spaceflight affects a broad range of nonprofessional astronauts.

Stibbe’s “Rakia” mission is focused on education and artistic endeavors as well as scientific research, all in behalf of the Ramon Foundation, the Israel Space Agency and the Israeli Ministry of Innovation, Science, and Technology: The activities are  broadly focused on astrophysics, agriculture, optics, communications, healthcare, neurology and ophthalmology.

“A groundbreaking number of experiments were chosen by a scientific and technological committee and integrated with NASA,” according to Inbal Kreiss, chair of the Scientific and Technological Committee and head of the Innovation of Systems Missiles and Space Group at Israel Aerospace Industries. “They are expected to lead to technological, scientific, and medical breakthroughs that will impact the quality of human life on Earth and the future of humanity’s long-term missions beyond Earth.”

Pathy is pursuing a variety of research activities on behalf of the Montreal Children’s Hospital, Canadian Research Universities and The Royal Canadian Geographical Society. They include studies of chronic pain and sleep disturbances that can accompany space travel as well as changes in visual acuity. His geological activities are focused on studies of the North American environment and climate change.

Mark Carreau

Mark is based in Houston, where he has written on aerospace for more than 25 years. While at the Houston Chronicle, he was recognized by the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement Foundation in 2006 for his professional contributions to the public understanding of America's space program through news reporting.