Axiom Space says it’s working with the Saudi Space Commission to send two spacefliers from the Arab kingdom, including the first Saudi woman to go into orbit, to the International Space Station as early as next year.

The inclusion of a female astronaut is particularly notable for Saudi Arabia — where women were forbidden to drive motor vehicles until 2018, and where the status of women is still a controversial subject.

Houston-based Axiom Space and the Saudi Space Commission announced their partnership today at the International Astronautical Congress in Paris. In a news release, the Saudi commission said its participation in Axiom’s Ax-2 mission is part of the nation’s effort “to conduct scientific experiments and research for the betterment of humanity in priority areas such as health, sustainability and space technology.” It acknowledged that including a woman astronaut “will represent a historical first for the Kingdom.”

Axiom Space conducted its first commercial mission to the ISS in April. The Ax-1 mission sent three millionaire investors to the ISS in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule for a 17-day orbital trip. Ax-2, tentatively planned for the first half of 2023, is expected to follow a similar flight plan.

Two other members of the Ax-2 crew have already been named. Former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson is due to command the mission, and race car driver John Shoffner has signed up as mission pilot. Axiom and NASA announced last month that they’ve signed the mission order for Ax-2 — and NASA and its space station partners are expected to end up approving Axiom’s crew selections.

Axiom Space’s president and CEO, Michael Suffredini (left) meets with Saudi officials Abdullah bin Amer Al-Swahha and Mohammed Saud Al Tamimi to sign documents on space cooperation. (Credit: Saudi Space Commission)

Axiom Space is the first company to take advantage of NASA’s commercial spaceflight participant program, which was set up in 2019. Axiom handles the logistics for its crewed missions, including the arrangements for training, launch and recovery, with reimbursement to NASA for the space agency’s expenses. The customers for Ax-1 were said to have paid $55 million each for their ride.

Axiom made several other announcements during the IAC meeting:

  • The company signed an agreement with Turkish officials to send the first Turkish astronaut to space, potentially on Axiom’s third trip to the space station.
  • Axiom said it’s working with Maison Mumm, a French winemaker, to carry the first champagne bottle designed for use during space travel on Axiom’s future missions. The Mumm Cordon Rouge Stellar bottle features a shell made of aerospace-grade aluminum.
  • Axiom signed a memorandum of understanding with the Canadian Space Agency aimed at examining the potential for collaboration on space infrastructure development and increased access to space for Canadian astronauts.

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