Commercial space stations manufacturer Axiom Space has signed a contract with SpaceX to send three private astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) in the second half of 2021.

The mission involves transporting an Axiom-trained commander, along with three private astronauts, to and from the ISS on a Crew Dragon spacecraft. The trip will last ten days and will allow the crew to live onboard the ISS for at least eight days.

Axiom CEO Michael Suffredini said: “This history-making flight will represent a watershed moment in the march toward universal and routine access to space.

“This will be just the first of many missions to ISS to be completely crewed and managed by Axiom Space – a first for a commercial entity.

“Procuring the transportation marks significant progress toward that goal, and we’re glad to be working with SpaceX in this effort.”

The expedition is set to be the first of Axiom’s proposed ‘precursor missions’ to the ISS as agreed under the 2016 Space Act Agreement (SAA) with Nasa.

Discussions are currently underway with the space agency to sign additional agreements to fly such private astronauts to ISS.

Axiom plans to conduct professional and private astronaut flights to ISS twice a year.

SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell said: “Since 2012, SpaceX has been delivering cargo to the International Space Station in partnership with Nasa and later this year, we will fly Nasa astronauts for the first time.

“Now, thanks to Axiom and their support from Nasa, privately crewed missions will have unprecedented access to the space station, furthering the commercialisation of space and helping usher in a new era of human exploration.”

Earlier this month, SpaceX was contracted by Nasa to provide launch services for its Psyche mission.