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Artist's illustration of Axiom's space station modules. Image: Axiom Space

Axiom Space wants to build a space station for a new age of exploration, and last week, the Houston-based company started moving ahead with its plans in earnest.

Driving the news: NASA announced that the company has been chosen to add its first module to the International Space Station, opening up the orbiting laboratory to more commercial activities in the future.

The big picture: NASA wants to foster commercial enterprise in orbit so it becomes a user, not a provider, of services, freeing up the agency to focus on its broader goals like sending people to the Moon and Mars.

  • If Axiom succeeds in building and operating a commercial space station, it will mark a turning point for how space is used and who has access to it.
  • Axiom's station will be focused on catering to private companies and space agencies or even tourists who want to experience outer space for themselves.

Details: Axiom expects to launch its first module to the station by the second half of 2024, with a habitation module coming about six months later and a manufacturing module launching six months after that, Axiom co-founder Michael Suffredini told Axios.

  • When the International Space Station comes to an end, Axiom plans to remove its modules and become a free-standing station that can be accessed by the company's customers.
  • Axiom already has a deal with either Boeing or SpaceX — the company wouldn't confirm which — to fly an Axiom crew to the station in 2021.
  • "We expect to procure flights from both providers over time to fly our missions," Suffredini said. "We're beginning these flights early in order to set the cadence and the rhythm."

But, but, but: Axiom's business is potentially risky. The company will face a number of technical challenges around getting its station up and running, and the demand for a private space station in orbit isn't yet well understood.

Go deeper: Private spaceflight companies plan to capitalize on the ISS

Go deeper

Mike Pence calls Kamala Harris to offer congratulations and help

Mike Pence. Photo: Chip Somodevilla via Getty

Vice President Mike Pence called Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on Thursday to congratulate her and offer assistance in the transition, the New York Times first reported.

Why it matters: The belated conversation came six days before the inauguration after a contentious post-election stretch. President Trump has neither spoken with President-elect Joe Biden, nor explicitly conceded the 2020 election.

Updated 2 hours ago - Health

The coronavirus variants: What you need to know

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

New variants of the coronavirus circulating globally appear to increase transmission and are being closely monitored by scientists.

Driving the news: The highly contagious variant B.1.1.7 originally detected in the U.K. could become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March if no measures are taken to control the spread of the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

2 hours ago - World

Abbas announces first Palestinian elections in 15 years

Abbas is 85 and in the 15th year of a 4-year term. Abbas Momani/AFP via Getty

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas published a decree on Friday announcing the dates for parliamentary and presidential elections in the Palestinian Authority.

Why it matters: This is the first time in 15 years that such a decree has been published. The last presidential elections took place in 2005, with Abbas winning, and the last parliamentary elections took place in 2006, with Hamas winning.