HomeScienceOuter SpaceHungary is spending $100 million on an astronaut's private mission to the...

Hungary is spending $100 million on an astronaut’s private mission to the ISS

PARIS — The Hungarian government plans to spend $100 million to send an astronaut to the International Space Station within two years through a deal with Axiom Space.

In a presentation at the meeting of the Council of Ministers of the European Space Agency on Nov. 22, Péter Szijjártó, Hungary’s foreign minister, said that the country is in the middle of a process to select an astronaut to go on a mission of will fly to the ISS for a month. or early 2025.

Axiom Space announced in July that it has signed a memorandum of understanding with the government of Hungary regarding that country’s Hungarian to Orbit (HUNOR) program, which would fly a Hungarian astronaut to space for a future Axiom Space mission. mission. However, that announcement gave few details about when that person would fly.

Szijjártó gave more details about the effort during remarks he made during the opening session of the ESA ministerial meeting, when representatives from ESA member states, associated states and other observers were each given three minutes to discuss their views on ESA issues.

“This is a program that is being implemented with the participation of the American company Axiom Space and its size is $100 million,” he said of the initiative. “This will culminate in a 30-day research mission by a Hungarian astronaut with three other astronauts in late 2024 or early 2025, depending on what time NASA confirms access to the International Space Station.”

NASA has yet to assign missions to Axiom Space beyond the Ax-2 mission scheduled for spring 2023, but is evaluating proposals for two private astronaut missions that could include an Axiom Space flight in that time frame.

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Szijjártó said the government is in the middle of an astronaut selection process and has received 244 applications, 39 of which are women. That has been reduced to eight candidates, four of whom have been selected for training by the end of the year. “The final decision on the final astronaut will be made just a few months before the mission itself.”

The selected astronaut will “test 12 Hungarian devices” and conduct eight experiments from Hungarian universities, he said. “We are ready to also offer research and experiment slots for ESA during this 30-day space mission.”

Hungary is one of many countries conducting astronaut flights with Axiom Space. In September, Axiom Space announced an agreement with the Saudi Space Commission to fly two Saudi astronauts. A NASA official later said those astronauts would likely fly on the Ax-2 mission. Axiom also has an agreement with Turkey to fly a Turkish astronaut on a later Axiom mission.

However, Hungary is a member of ESA, which has its own astronaut corps. Szijjártó’s statement on private spaceflight at the ministerial meeting raised eyebrows among other ESA members, especially as it comes just before ESA is about to announce a new astronaut class with career and reserve astronauts.

Another concern is that the $100 million Hungary plans to spend on the astronaut flight is similar to funding for ESA programs in general. Hungary pledged €97 million to ESA programs at the 2019 ministerial meeting, and Szijjártó said Hungary planned to make a similar pledge to ESA programs at the ongoing meeting.

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“This is a choice of Hungary, so I am not commenting on the arrangements made between a country and a private company,” ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher told reporters in late November 22 when asked about the Hungarian statement. “Personally, I would prefer to fly this astronaut within an ESA context, but of course this is a choice of each individual country.”

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