DENVER — A Swedish astronaut may fly to the International Space Station on a commercial mission within the next year under an agreement signed this week.
The letter of intent, signed by the Swedish National Space Agency, European Space Agency and Axiom Space, would allow an ESA astronaut, most likely from Sweden, to go to the station on an Axiom commercial mission lasting about 10 days.
Under the three-way agreement, the Swedish National Space Agency would negotiate directly with Axiom for the flight on a future private astronaut mission. ESA would be the “crew provider” for the mission, signing an agreement with Axiom to define and implement the mission and assigning an ESA astronaut to it.
“The ESA astronaut policy was developed for exactly these opportunities, flying on commercial flights in partnership as we transition Europe’s access to space and diversify the space market,” Josef Aschbacher, ESA director general, said in a statement about the agreement, signed during the 38th Space Symposium.
ESA and Axiom Space, in separate statements, said only that the person flying on the mission would be an ESA astronaut. However, in its own statement, the Swedish National Space Agency said the astronaut would be Swedish.
“A Swedish astronaut is a source of inspiration for an entire population and an ambassador for Sweden. Through what will be Sweden’s second astronaut, we are strengthening our position in the global space arena,” Anna Rathsman, director general of the agency and chair of the ESA Council, said in a translated statement.
One astronaut representing Sweden has flown to space to date. Christer Fuglesang, who was selected by ESA for its astronaut corps in 1992, flew on two shuttle missions, STS-116 in 2006 and STS-128 in 2009. NASA astronaut Jessica Meir, who flew on a long-duration ISS mission in 2019-2020, also has Swedish citizenship from her Swedish mother.
None of the active ESA astronauts today are Swedish. In the new ESA astronaut class announced in November 2022, one Swede, Marcus Wandt, was selected as a “reserve” astronaut. Such astronauts would remain in their current jobs but receive basic training to prepare for any future flight opportunities.
The statement from the Swedish National Space Agency added that it was its intention to fly the astronaut within a year, pending selection through a formal process. The agency said it is working with the Swedish Space Corporation and the Swedish armed forces for the mission, along with Swedish companies Saab and FAM.
Sweden would not be the first ESA member planning to fly an astronaut commercially through Axiom. Italy has been working with Axiom Space since 2018 and expects to fly an astronaut on the Ax-3 mission, set to fly to the ISS as soon as late this year.
“Axiom Space’s partnership with the Swedish National Space Agency and ESA symbolizes our efforts to work with countries and organizations around the world to expand the commercial space domain,” Michael Suffredini, president and chief executive of Axiom, said in a company statement.
Axiom announced April 17 a new initiative, called the Axiom Space Access Program, to serve governments interested in conducting research in space or flying astronauts. The company did not state in its announcement if the agreement with Sweden and ESA was considered part of that program.