Welcome to Pathfinder, a new weekly show where Payload Managing Editor Ryan Duffy sits down with the top shot-callers in space. In the first episode of Pathfinder, we speak with Michael Suffredini, president and CEO of Axiom Space.
Axiom is a Houston-based space startup unicorn. Axiom is building a space station, brokering private spaceflight missions with SpaceX, and even has a slot at the International Space Station (ISS) with its name on it. If you can’t tell, we love saying the word space.
Suffredini is one of the world’s foremost authorities on building and operating space stations. He spent three decades at NASA and 10 years as the ISS program manager, before hanging up his space agency cleats and starting Axiom with Kam Ghaffarian.
In April, Axiom clinched a world, or maybe intergalactic, first. Together with SpaceX, Axiom launched Ax-1, the first all-private mission to the ISS. In our conversation, recorded in early May, Suffredini shares plenty with us on Ax-1, Axiom’s business model, his time at NASA, Tom Cruise’s LEO movie, in-space manufacturing, and much more.
Pathfinder’s first episode is brought to you by SpiderOak Mission Systems, an industry leader in space cybersecurity.
0:00 – intro
1:33 – Ax-1 mission introduction
3:07 – Staying busy after the mission concluded
4:17 – Looking back at the launch, what surprised Mike the most?
6:50 – Mike’s departure from NASA, fateful convos with eventual Axiom cofounder Dr. Kam Ghaffarian, and the decision to start Axiom
9:40 – “He called me back probably the next day and said: ‘Okay, I’m in. Let’s go build a space station.’”
11:54 – How could a commercial station improve upon what’s been started with the ISS? What’s different between public and private stations?
13:21 – Spacewalks are expensive and time-consuming, but necessary to repair American components outside the International Space Station
14:13 – At the ISS, “we transitioned to a laptop you could buy online.” Axiom is taking this approach to a whole new level.
14:40 – UX (user experience) space stations – a niche but important discipline
15:29 – Fixing issues in flight without calling the ground and using automated onboard hardware
15:50 – Cost comparisons between public and private stations
16:10 – Buy vs. build
18:07 – Vertical integration
23:46 – Later this century, Axiom has sci-fi visions of creating rotating space cities in low-Earth orbit
26:24 – NASA shifting from owning/operating a station to being one customer on it
31:04 – Axiom’s target markets, from applied research to in-space manufacturing
33:16 – “The big thing that’s really ‘gonna change our lives”…
33:12 – The killer app for space stations?
37:20 – Inspiring kids to start thinking about microgravity and building products/businesses suited to the conditions of microgravity
42:52 – “The movie flight is the worst-kept secret in the industry” (👀Tom Cruise👀)
43:53 – Closing out the show with a bunch of Texas questions