First Commercial Space Station Set to Launch in 2020; Axiom Plans to Use It As a Manufacturing and 3D Printing Hub by 2027

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In 2014, history was made as the SpaceX Dragon supply freighter docked with the ISS, carrying supplies and the first 3D printer in space, the Made In Space zero-gravity 3D printer. About two years later, a second Made In Space 3D printer, dubbed the Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF), was sent up to the ISS. But Houston-based Axiom Space, which plans to launch the first-ever commercial space station into orbit by 2020, intends to have many more 3D printers sent up to space over the next several years.

Axiom has only been around for a little over a year, but employs some pretty big names – president and CEO Michael Suffredini managed the ISS for ten years, and Axiom chairman Kam Ghaffarian is the president and CEO of NASA contractor SGT Inc., which trains American astronauts and manages the ISS. So clearly the company knows what it’s doing, and has big plans – Axiom is leveraging the ISS, and envisions its own space station actually taking over for the ISS in the future.

Axiom will start launching its own space station modules to link up with the ISS in 2020; its outer space outpost will be operational, and able to house seven crew members, once the first two pieces are attached. Other pieces, such as propulsion and power modules, will then be sent up, and the station, estimated to cost between $1.5 and $1.8 billion, should hopefully be completed by 2024.

Axiom plans to use its station first as a tourist destination, with a goal of launching space tourists to the ISS in 2019 while station construction is still underway. Training for this goal will start later this year, and these space flights are estimated to cost tourists looking for an out-of-this-world vacation destination tens of millions of dollars per seat. At the same time, it will also be used as a private research base for national, or “sovereign,” astronauts on 60-day missions, and then, if all goes according to plan, it will shift its focus and become a manufacturing hub a few years later.

Amir Blachman, Axiom Space’s vice president of strategic development, told Space.com, “We expect that, by the 2027 time frame, manufacturing will overtake all the other revenue combined.”

The other revenue Blachman referenced will be coming from advertising and sponsorships; as an example, lab equipment inside the station could be sponsored by biomedical companies. But Axiom’s commercial space station will also have multiple 3D printers on board, which will be used to build small satellites, for a much lower cost than a full spacecraft from Earth. In addition, Axiom’s 3D printers will be “serving as a production base for a variety of big and lucrative jobs in a decade or so.”

“We can envision printing hundreds of jet turbines and super-specialized alloys, and down-massing them in quantity. We’re talking 2026, 2027, 2028,” said Blachman.

Axiom is already working with Made In Space on its plans: for example, Made In Space will be making sure that its AMF is available for Axiom astronauts to use, and the California-based company also has an eye on Axiom’s commercial space outpost as a potential site for large-scale production of its off-Earth materials, like high-quality optical fiber. In addition, Made In Space’s Archinaut technology could be used to help build external platforms or other structures for Axiom’s station.

Made In Space CEO Andrew Rush said, “The things that Axiom is doing and the things that we’re doing are very, very synergistic. We’ve agreed to try and use each other’s services as much as possible.”

The Axiom station will consist of rigid metallic modules, built by French aerospace manufacturer Thales Alenia Space. Once the ISS completes its mission, which is scheduled to happen in 2024, the Axiom space station will separate from it and start to fly freely on its own in low Earth orbit. However, NASA is discussing the possibility of extending the ISS through 2028, so Axiom may have to wait just a little longer to take over. Discuss in the Commercial Space Station forum at 3DPB.com.

[Sources: Space.com, Science World Report / Images: Axiom Space]

 

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