Ax-1 is headed back to Earth after 12 days of research on the ISS. Photo courtesy of SpaceX

Editor's note: Undocking was delayed again on April 19, and a new timeline has not been announced. The original story is below.

After spending 12 days in space, a historic commercial space mission will splash back down on Earth this week.

Houston-based Axiom Space’s first mission Axiom mission 1 (Ax-1), which took off April 8 and connected to the International Space Station, has announced its plans for undocking and splashdown.

After some initial bad weather postponed the process, the four-member private astronaut crew now is aiming to undock at about 9 pm tonight, April 19, and then land off the coast of Florida at around 2:24 pm tomorrow, April 20. Just like launch, the coverage of both events will be available at Axiom's website.

The mission on SpaceX’s spacecraft sent four multinational private astronauts — Commander Michael López-Alegría, Pilot Larry Connor, Mission Specialist Eytan Stibbe, and Mission Specialist Mark Pathy — to the ISS to conduct research and familiarize Axiom with launch, docking, and more.

Axiom Space, which reached $1 billion valuation and joined the Houston unicorn club last year after a $130 million investment round, is working on the first commercial space station to replace the ISS. The first launch of that mission is expected in late 2024. In the meantime, Axiom has a series of commercial launches to the existing station currently in orbit in order to prepare for development and orchestration of Axiom Station.

The Ax-1 mission, which has provided daily updates, has conducted over 20 research projects and even hit a few milestones, including:

  • The first-ever music duet performance in space — Commander López-Alegría and Neo-Classical Piano Prodigy BLKBOK made music and space history with their piano and keyboard duet
  • The Aging and Heart Health investigation, an experiment from the Mayo Clinic — a study that analyzes human cells for genetic markers of cellular aging and explores cardiac-like cells' adaptation to microgravity
  • Observation of Transient Luminous Events — Specialist Stibbe completed a space observation experiment and photographed a lightning storm over Darwin, Australia, to enhance understanding of the electrical processes in the atmosphere and to determine whether there’s a connection with climate change
  • Testing of the Holoportation system — Mission Specialist Pathy set up two-way AI technology that will allow the ability of future crew members to explore deep space with the ability to virtually bring friends, family, and physicians close with them so that they can get an on-Earth experience
  • Several outreach calls to Earth to STEM students from around the world — this included a call to children at Space Center Houston

Axiom shares more details on its mission research projects — which span technologies such as future space habitats, cancer research, and devices to purify air on space stations — online.

“As the first step on a path to building a diverse, thriving economy in low-Earth orbit, Axiom has partnered with leaders in academia and industry to bring new users and new investigations in research to the space station,” says Christian Maender, director of In-space Manufacturing and Research for Axiom Space, in a news release. “The collection of biological and technological tests during the Ax-1 mission represent a breadth of research that will inform everything from human health considerations to novel infrastructure and design for our future homes away from Earth, beginning with Axiom Station.”

The four-person crew spent 12 days on the ISS. Photo courtesy of NASA

Four commercial astronauts are headed to the ISS this week, thanks to a Houston tech company. Photo courtesy Axiom Space

Houston company prepares for takeoff of first commercial space launch

houston, we (almost) have liftoff

A Houston-based space tech company has been preparing for liftoff, and all signs point to moving forward with the planned launch tomorrow, April 8.

Axiom Space’s first mission — Axiom mission 1 (Ax-1) headed to the International Space Station on SpaceX machinery — is ready for takeoff. SpaceX, Axiom, and NASA are targeting a launch time of 10:17 a.m. Docking is expected to occur Saturday, April 9, at around 6:30 a.m. Axiom will be airing a lifestream of the launch on its website.

Axiom Space, which reached $1 billion valuation and joined the Houston unicorn club last year after a $130 million investment round, is working on the first commercial space station to replace the ISS. The first launch of that mission is expected in late 2024. In the meantime, Axiom has a series of commercial launches to the existing station currently in orbit in order to prepare for development and orchestration of Axiom Station.

"This really represents the first step where a bunch of individuals who want to do something meaningful in low earth orbit that aren't members of the government are able to take this opportunity," says Michael Suffredini, president and CEO of Axiom Space, at a recent press conference. "It's really a precursor mission to a fully commercial space station that we're developing."

SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft arrived last week in the hangar at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and, according to a news release from Axiom, the spacecraft has since been mated with the Falcon 9 rocket.

On the 10-day mission, the Ax-1 crew will spend eight days on the ISS conducting research and testing technology and operations. The mission's members include:

  • Commander Michael López-Alegría of Spain and the United States
  • Pilot Larry Connor of the United States
  • Mission Specialist Eytan Stibbe of Israel
  • Mission Specialist Mark Pathy of Canada

"This mission is important because not only are we're also developing the techniques we will be using communication from mission control to space, but we're also developing all the procedures and processes that make space travel possible," says Peggy Whitson, director of Human Space Flight at Axiom Space, at the news conference.


Part of Axiom's long-term plans include an Earth observatory of its commercial space station. Photo via axiomspace.com

KBR signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA's Johnson Space Center to provide private astronaut training in NASA facilities. Photo via NASA.gov

Houston tech company gets green light from NASA to train commercial astronauts

space tech

For 60 years, Houston-based KBR has supported NASA's astronauts. Now, though a recently signed Space Act Agreement, KBR will also be providing its human spaceflight operation services to commercial companies.

"KBR has pioneered space travel for more than half a century. We will leverage our domain expertise to assist private astronauts with their human spaceflight activities," says Stuart Bradie, KBR President and CEO, in a news release.

The arrangement will include KBR training private astronauts on NASA property — it's the only agreement of its kind. KBR will train for space tasks like operating onboard of the International Space Station, routine operational tasks, health and performance checks, responding to emergencies, and more.

"This historic agreement is a testament to KBR's long standing partnership with NASA. We will continue to work together to propel NASA's mission to fuel a low-Earth orbit economy and advance the future of commercial space," Bradie continues in the release.

Earlier this week, Axiom Space, a Houston-based space tech startup, announced it was selected to design a commercial space flight habitat to be attached to the ISS. KBR is among Axiom's professional partners on the project.

Image---Axiom-modules-connected-to-ISS KBR is one of Axiom Space's partners on its new NASA-sanctioned ISS project. Photo via AxiomSpace.com

The Axiom project includes plans to replace the ISS with a commercially operated space station. The targeted launch date for the commercial destination module is set for late 2024.

Both the Axiom and KBR agreements with NASA are in line with a shift toward commercialization within the space industry. Last June, NASA released its plan to introduce marketing and commercial opportunities to the ISS — with financial expense being a main factory.

"The agency's ultimate goal in low-Earth orbit is to partner with industry to achieve a strong ecosystem in which NASA is one of many customers purchasing services and capabilities at lower cost," reads the release online.

In an interview with InnovationMap last July, NASA Technology Transfer Strategist Steven Gonzalez explains that opening up the space industry to commercial opportunities allows for NASA to focus on research. The government agency doesn't need to worry about a return on investment, like commercial entities have to.

"With the commercial market now, people keep talking about it being a competition, but in reality we need one another," Gonzalez says. "We have 60 years of history that they can stand on and they are doing things differently that we're learning from."

A Houston space startup has been selected by NASA to design the first commercial habitat to attach to — and eventually replace — the International Space Station. Photo via axiomspace.com

NASA taps Houston startup to create commercial habitat to attach to the International Space Station

out of this world

A Houston-based space startup has been named the winner of a NASA competition — and the prize is getting to create the first commercial habitat in space.

Axiom Space has won NASA's NextSTEP-2 Appendix I solicitation, a call for a commercial habitat to be attached to the International Space Station's Harmony module, or Node 2. Axiom is working to create a commercial space station that would eventually serve as a replacement for ISS.

"We appreciate the bold decision on the part of NASA to open up a commercial future in low Earth orbit," Co-founder Michael Suffredini says in a news release. "This selection is a recognition of the uniquely qualified nature of the Axiom team and our commercial plan to create and support a thriving, sustainable, and American-led LEO ecosystem."

Axiom was founded by Suffredini, former NASA ISS program manager, and space entrepreneur Kam Ghaffarian in 2016. The company has plans to launch a node module, research facility, manufacturing operations, crew habitat, and large-windowed Earth observatory all to be attached to the ISS. The targeted launch date is set for late 2024.

Part of Axiom's long-term plans include an Earth observatory. Photo via axiomspace.com

"Axiom exists to provide the infrastructure in space for a variety of users to conduct research, discover new technologies, test systems for exploration of the Moon and Mars, manufacture superior products for use in orbit and on the ground, and ultimately improve life back on Earth," continues Suffredini.

"As we build on the legacy and foundation established by the ISS Program, we look forward to working with NASA and the ecosystem of current and future international partners on this seminal effort."

Ghaffarian has decades of space expertise and founded Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies, which went on to be a NASA engineering services provider before being acquired by KBR in 2018. Now, KBR — along with Boeing, Thales Alenia Space Italy, Intuitive Machines, and Maxar Technologies — serves as a partner to Axiom.

"A commercial platform in Earth orbit is an opportunity to mark a shift in our society similar to that which astronauts undergo when they see the planet from above," Ghaffarian, who serves as Axiom's executive chairman, says in the release.

"Our goal is to advance the state of humanity and human knowledge. I am glad to see the Axiom team, with its advanced human spaceflight, engineering, and operations expertise, recognized for its potential to do just that and build off of ISS."

The Axiom Segment will be attached to the ISS until the station is phased out. Then, Axiom will launch a power source into space to serve Axiom's operations before detaching from the decommissioned ISS all together. Eventually, the Axiom Segment will be a free-flying commercial space station.

"There is a fantastically steep learning curve to human spaceflight," Suffredini says in the release. "The collective experience at Axiom is quite far along it. Because we know firsthand what works and what doesn't in [low Earth orbit], we are innovating in terms of design, engineering, and process while maintaining safety and dramatically lowering costs."

Lamborghini has partnered with Houston Methodist Research Institute to study the effects of space on carbon fiber. Photo courtesy of Automobili Lamborghini

Luxury sports car manufacturer partners with Houston researcher to study carbon fiber in space

Vroom

Apartnership between Automobili Lamborghini and the Houston Methodist Research Institute will send carbon fiber composite materials into space for experimentation then return them to Earth for study.

No earlier than November 2, a Northrop Grumman Antares rocket carrying the material will be launched from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Its destination is the International Space Station.

The launch is part of a testing campaign sponsored by the ISS U.S. National Laboratory and overseen by the Houston Methodist Research Institute. Its aim is to analyze the response of five different composite materials produced by Lamborghini to the extreme stresses induced by the space environment. The results could have numerous real world impacts, including applications in future automobiles, prosthetic implants, and subcutaneous devices.

The five samples of composite materials include a 3D-printed continuous-fiber composite, which Lamborghini says makes it possible to combine the extreme flexibility of "additive manufacturing" with high-level mechanical performance, a strength equal to that of a good quality aluminum for structural uses. This particular material is very important in the biomedical field.

The materials will be aboard the ISS for six months, during which time they will be subjected to extreme thermal excursion cycles ranging from -40 degrees to 200 degrees centigrade. They will also experience high levels of ultraviolet radiation, gamma rays, and the flow of atomic oxygen caused by ionization.

Post-mission, the materials will be returned to Earth and undergo joint testing by Automobili Lamborghini and the Houston Methodist Research Institute in an effort to qualify degradation in terms of chemical, physical, and mechanical properties.

Lamborghini currently uses composite materials throughout its lineup, with carbon fiber playing an instrumental role in the company's entire product range. The company is providing its expertise and materials free of charge for the study.

Lamborghini hopes to use the results of the study to impact product development here on Earth. Photo courtesy of Automobili Lamborghini

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This article originally ran on AutomotiveMap.

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Houston-based health tech startup is revolutionizing patient selection for clinical trials

working smarter

On many occasions in her early career, Dr. Arti Bhosale, co-founder and CEO of Sieve Health, found herself frustrated with having to manually sift through thousands of digital files.

The documents, each containing the medical records of a patient seeking advanced treatment through a clinical trial, were always there to review — and there were always more to read.

Despite the tediousness of prescreening, which could take years, the idea of missing a patient and not giving them the opportunity to go through a potentially life-altering trial is what kept her going. The one she didn’t read could have slipped through the cracks and potentially not given someone care they needed.

“Those stories have stayed with me,” she says. “That’s why we developed Sieve.”

When standard health care is not an option, advances in medical treatment could be offered through clinical trials. But matching patients to those trials is one of the longest standing problems in the health care industry. Now with the use of new technology as of 2018, the solution to the bottleneck may be a new automated approach.

“Across the globe, more than 30 percent of clinical trials shut down as a result of not enrolling enough patients,” says Bhosale. “The remaining 80 percent never end up reaching their target enrollment and are shut down by the FDA.”

In 2020, Bhosale and her team developed Sieve Health, an AI cloud-based SaaS platform designed to automate and accelerate matching patients with clinical trials and increase access to clinical trials.

Sieve’s main goal is to reduce the administrative burden involved in matching enrollments, which in turn will accelerate the trial execution. They provide the matching for physicians, study sponsors and research sites to enhance operations for faster enrollment of the trials.

The technology mimics but automates the traditional enrollment process — reading medical notes and reviewing in the same way a human would.

“I would have loved to use something like this when I was on the front lines,” Bhosale says, who worked in clinical research for over 12 years. “Can you imagine going through 10,000 records manually? Some of the bigger hospitals have upwards of 100,000 records and you still have to manually review those charts to make sure that the patient is eligible for the trial. That process is called prescreening. It is painful.”

Because physicians wear many hats and have many clinical efforts on their plates, research tends to fall to the bottom of the to-do list. Finding 10-20 patients can take the research team on average 15-20 months to find those people — five of which end up unenrolling, she says.

“We have designed the platform so that the magic can happen in the background, and it allows the physician and research team to get a jumpstart,” she says.” They don’t have to worry about reviewing 10,000 records — they know what their efforts are going to be and will ensure that the entire database has been scanned.”

With Sieve, the team was able to help some commercial pilot programs have a curated data pool for their trials – cutting the administrative burden and time spent searching to less than a week.

Sieve is in early-stage start up mode and the commercial platform has been rolled out. Currently, the team is conducting commercial projects with different research sites and hospitals.

“Our focus now is seeing how many providers we can connect into this,” she says. “There’s a bigger pool out there who want to participate in research but don’t know where to start. That’s where Sieve is stepping in and enabling them to do this — partnering with those and other groups in the ecosystem to bring trials to wherever the physicians and the patients are.”

Arti Bhosale is the co-founder and CEO of Sieve Health. Photo courtesy of Sieve

Houston nonprofit unveils new and improved bayou cleaning vessel

litter free

For over 20 years, a nonprofit organization has hired people to clean 14 miles of bayou in Houston. And with a newly updated innovative boat, keeping Buffalo Bayou clean just got a lot more efficient.

Buffalo Bayou Partnership unveils its newest version of the Bayou-Vac this week, and it's expected to be fully operational this month. BBP Board Member Mike Garver designed both the initial model of the custom-designed and fabricated boat as well as the 2022 version. BBP's Clean & Green team — using Garver's boat — has removed around 2,000 cubic yards of trash annually, which is the equivalent of about 167 commercial dump trucks. The new and improved version is expected to make an even bigger impact.

“The Bayou-Vac is a game changer for our program,” says BBP field operations manager, Robby Robinson, in a news release. “Once up and running, we foresee being able to gain an entire workday worth of time for every offload, making us twice as efficient at clearing trash from the bayou.”

Keeping the bayou clean is important, since the water — and whatever trash its carrying — runs off into Galveston Bay, and ultimately, the Gulf of Mexico. The improvements made to the Bayou-Vac include removable dumpsters that can be easily swapped out, slid off, and attached to a dump truck. The older model included workers having to manually handle trash and debris and a secondary, land-based vacuum used to suck out the trash from onboard.

Additionally, the Bayou-Vac now has a moveable, hydraulic arm attached to the bow of the vessel that can support the weight of the 16-foot vacuum hose. Again, this task was something done manually on the previous model of the Bayou-Vac.

“BBP deeply appreciates the ingenuity of our board member Mike Garver and the generosity of Sis and Hasty Johnson and the Kinder Foundation, the funders of the new Bayou-Vac,” BBP President Anne Olson says in the release. “We also thank the Harris County Flood Control District and Port Houston for their longtime support of BBP’s Clean & Green Program.”