NASA has completed a first-phase study with Axiom and is now doing a deeper study that may be completed in the next few months, Blachman said. The module would launch on a heavy-lift cargo rocket and would have an advantage over most ISS modules: most of the equipment is inside the shell, removing the need for spacewalks. It also would have more miniaturized computers able to do more, simply because this module is newer than the rest of the ISS.
"As a private company, we can do other things like accepting tourists more frequently, or doing advertising sponsorships," Blachman said.
But those are future streams of revenue. In the near term, the company is focused on training astronauts from other countries (whose nations would pay) as well as doing additive or 3-D manufacturing in space under an agreement with the company Made In Space, which already does that work in other parts of the ISS.
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Startup funding came from a seed round in 2016, when Axiom was first founded. The $3 million round was led by Kam Ghaffarian, the chief executive of Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies (SGT) - a company that trains NASA astronauts and does ISS mission preparation.
Axiom is now doing a Series A round that they plan to close early this year. And in future years, Blachman noted, Axiom has plans to spread further into the solar system.
"What we're talking about is the true commercialization and industrialization of low Earth orbit," he said.
Step one is manufacturing stuff in low Earth orbit, while step two would be to put a module around say, the moon to test life support for deep space exploration systems. According to Blachman, the vision is to go where the customers need - even as far as Mars, if that's where the demand lies in future decades.
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