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Saudi Arabia buys a pair of SpaceX astronaut seats from Axiom



CNN Business

Saudi Arabia plans to send two astronauts to the International Space Station aboard an Elon Musk SpaceX space capsule, becoming the latest Gulf nation to strengthen ties with private US space companies, according to three people familiar with the matter. agreement.

The sources, who spoke anonymously to discuss the mission’s crew ahead of its formal announcement, said the deal was signed privately earlier this year with Houston’s Axiom Space, which organizes and manages private spacecraft missions into space. Americans for researchers and tourists.

Under the deal, two Saudi astronauts will travel in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule to the space station for a stay of about a week early next year, the sources said. The Saudis would be the first from their country to go into space aboard a private spacecraft.

Axiom did not immediately comment. Officials from the Saudi Space Commission, the Riyadh space agency founded in 2018, were not immediately available for comment.

Private US companies have played an increasingly important role in sending astronauts to the space station as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the US space agency now focused on largely on returning humans to the moon, it seeks to commercialize America’s decades-old human spaceflight. presence in low earth orbit.

The deal would mark the latest that places companies like Axiom in a unique diplomacy role long dominated by government agencies like NASA. The space station is a football-field-sized laboratory about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth that has hosted international crews of astronauts for more than 20 years.

The Saudi astronauts will join two previously announced Americans, retired NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson and racing driver and investor John Shoffner, the sources said. The mission, called Ax-2, will be the second spaceflight hosted by Axiom.

The private astronauts aboard the Ax-2 have yet to be approved by a NASA-chaired panel of space station stakeholders and participating countries, including Russia, Canada, Japan and the European Space Agency, a US official said. The official added that the mission is likely to receive approval.

For Axiom and other space companies, striking deals with foreign governments is seen as vital to maintaining a business focused on putting people into space. Taking people into space is a luxury for wealthy adventure seekers and a source of national prestige and inspiration for would-be space powers like Saudi Arabia.

Axiom launched its first private mission to the space station in April, sending a four-man crew to the space station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule that included a Canadian investor and an Israeli businessman.

And Axiom on Monday announced a deal with Turkey to launch the country’s first two astronauts into space by the end of 2023. That will likely be for the Ax-3 mission, according to a person familiar with the flight.

Axiom’s astronaut flight business is a crucial experience for the company’s broader goals of deploying its own private space station by the middle of the decade. It plans to connect modules to the ISS first before breaking up into a completely private structure once the existing international laboratory is retired around 2030.

The value of the Saudi Axiom deal was unclear. Each Crew Dragon seat on Axiom’s first mission sold for $55 million each.

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