Ran Livne is the Director General of Ramon Foundation (opens in new tab) and the head of Rakia mission (opens in new tab). He contributed to this article Space.com Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
The upcoming Ax-1 mission is perhaps the beginning of a new era in human spaceflight – not because of the identity of the private astronauts, but because of the ecosystem that is emerging around them.
Since the dawn of mankind, our species has dreamed of reaching outer space. About 600 people have done so so far. But the number is expected to rise dramatically Manned space travel is commercialized; Some argue that over 200 individuals will reach the final limit in the next decade.
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However, the real revolution will not be in the number of people reaching space, but in the future infrastructure that will enable them to live and work there.
SpaceX, Axiom Space and Space Adventures are already flying astronauts into low Earth orbit. And Axiom, Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman and other companies plan to build private space stations in the near future. Flying private individuals into space instead of experienced astronauts may require the new stations to use different air and water purification systems, food systems, and more convenient housing infrastructure. This need will lead to a tremendous development of new life support systems.
The business model of this upcoming private space stations consists not only of “selling space tickets” for private astronauts, but also of developing an entire worldwide ecosystem of scientists, researchers and engineers who will conduct science and technology aboard these new extraterrestrial platforms. The competition between the different stations will lead to aggressive marketing efforts that will bring more potential customers to the global space industry. And these customers – from academia to pharmaceutical companies to space industry start-ups – will require advanced scientific infrastructure and fast, high-level service for the benefit of mankind.
As an Israeli space professional, I see the benefits of this upcoming era of commercialization as overwhelming. Only about 60 Israeli startups are developing space products today. This is at odds with the fact that Israel has a strong and successful space program and leads the world in launches and scientific work per capita. But Israeli startups in general have not seriously considered space as an option. Our nation is not part of the International Space Station (ISS) partnership so that commercial space platforms open new horizons for Israeli space.
The seed of change is already there. Israel takes part Axiom Space Ax-1, the first purely private manned mission to the ISS. The 10-day Ax-1 is scheduled to launch Friday (April 8) on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The Israeli component of Ax-1, the Rakia mission (opens in new tab), is made possible by the Ramon Foundation, a private non-profit organization, with support from the Israeli government. Rakia is led by Eytan Stibbe, one of the four Ax-1 crew members who will become the second Israeli in space. (The first was Ilan Ramon, who was one of the seven astronauts who died in the Columbia space shuttle tragedy in 2003. The Ramon Foundation is named after him.)
Rakia offered Israeli companies the opportunity to join the mission and send experiments to the ISS, and the response was enthusiastic. Over 1,500 startups and research institutes participated in space webinars and meetups, exploring new opportunities. Rakia enabled 35 of them to conduct experiments on the ISS in 2022. These groups multiply the Israeli presence on the ISS by 3,000%. Developed by veteran startups, hospitals and well-known professors, most of these experiments will result in new space products and hundreds of scientific articles.
If this is possible in a year, imagine the future of off-Earth science when private space stations come online.
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