NASA and ISS Private Astronaut Missions – A Quick Overview

In 2019, NASA kicked off a strategy to enable a commercial LEO Economy which included offering flight opportunities for commercial providers to utilize ISS as a destination for private astronaut missions. Private astronaut missions to the ISS would be pathfinders to demonstrate and stimulate demand for future commercial destinations.

Benefits of private astronaut missions to the ISS:

  • Allows commercial industry the ability to gain insight into the costs associated with owning and operating a future commercial LEO destinations
  • Reduces market risk to commercial LEO destination developers by demonstrating the market (i.e. non-government human missions to LEO are a key market element for future commercial LEO destinations)
  • Expands range of commercial activities that can be performed on ISS
  • Potential to increase flight rate and reduce costs for access to LEO
First private astronaut mission crew

What is a private astronaut mission?

A private astronaut mission is a privately-funded, dedicated commercial flight to the ISS whereby approved commercial activities can be conducted by private astronauts on the space station. These private missions must use U.S. transportation vehicles that meet NASA’s ISS visiting vehicle requirements and will normally be of short duration, less than 30 days. The private astronaut mission sponsor is responsible for selecting the crew and ensuring they meet NASA’s medical standards and certification procedures for ISS crew consistent with their role on the mission.

Who selects the crew for a private astronaut mission?

The private astronaut mission provider is responsible for selecting the crew and ensuring they meet NASA’s medical standards and certification procedures for the International Space Station crew consistent with their role on the mission (i.e. professional astronaut vs tourist).

What kinds of activities will private astronauts perform on the space station?

Activities performed on the space station will be dependent on the level of training of the private astronaut and the agreements in place. A private astronaut assigned to a mission on the space station will have the ability to fill duties that fall into the approved  commercial and marketing activities outlined in the NASA Interim Directive, including certain promotional capabilities that meet the requirements of the U.S. Government, and routine operations of the space station. 

What requirements must private astronauts meet?

Private astronauts will have to meet FAA regulatory requirements, which include liability waivers, insurance, and indemnification during launch and reentry activities.

What support will NASA provide to private astronauts?

NASA will perform space station mission integration for all private astronauts to ensure the safety and efficiency of operations onboard. Additional support will be provided on a mission-specific basis depending on private astronaut mission provider needs and requests. This support may include, but is not limited to, cargo launch and return, on-orbit ambient and conditioned stowage, crew time, life support services, crew support consumables (e.g. food, crew provisions, medical kits), exercise equipment, power, camera/video use, and data downlink.

What is the cost of supporting Private Astronauts and what will NASA charge the private astronaut mission provider?

The total cost of the NASA services provided will vary by mission and be paid for by the private astronaut mission provider. The value of the individual services (e.g. crew time, cargo return, on-orbit stowage) will be determined in conjunction with the goals and requirements of the private astronaut mission. Prices will be consistent with the published pricing policy for the services requested.

What kind of agreement will NASA have with a private astronaut mission provider?

Depending upon the goals and requirements proposed for a particular mission, and the entity providing resources or services, private astronaut mission providers may operate on the space station pursuant to a Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR)-based contract, a space act agreement, and/or other arrangement as deemed appropriate under the circumstances.

How many private astronaut missions to the space station can be supported?

NASA anticipates supporting up to two short-duration (less than 30 days each) missions with private astronaut missions per year, dependent on visiting spacecraft traffic planning constraints and the health and performance of space station systems.

What scheduling opportunities will Private Astronaut Missions have for flights to the space station?

NASA will identify candidate private astronaut mission schedule windows. Private Astronaut Mission scheduling availability will be subject to overall integrated space station operations schedule, and is also subject to move given vehicle traffic changes, anomalies, or other unforeseen circumstances.

NASA is currently seeking proposals for two new private astronaut missions to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s efforts to open space to more people than ever before. The targeted flight opportunities will occur between late 2023 and 2024. With these opportunities, U.S. commercial companies will continue to play an essential role in establishing a sustained presence in low-Earth orbit (LEO) through the agency’s Commercial LEO Development Program.

The new targeted flight opportunities will be the third and fourth private astronaut missions to the International Space Station coordinated by NASA. The first mission was accomplished by Axiom Space in April 2022. Axiom Space was also selected by NASA for the second private astronaut mission, scheduled for the second quarter of 2023.

Each of the new missions may be up to 14 days while docked to the space station. Specific dates are dependent on spacecraft traffic to the space station and in-orbit activity planning and constraints. Private astronaut missions must be brokered by a U.S. entity and use U.S. transportation spacecraft that meet NASA’s International Space Station visiting vehicle requirements, policies, and procedures. Details are available in Focus Area 4A of NASA Research Announcement (NRA) NNJ13ZBG001N.

How can I become a private astronaut?

Regardless of background, whether for professional or personal reasons, anyone interested in becoming a private astronaut must make an arrangement through a U.S. entity that has an agreement with NASA to conduct a private astronaut mission.

Source: NASA