Axiom Mission 3 (Ax-3) successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS) on January 20th, marking the third private astronaut mission sent by Axiom Space to the orbiting laboratory. The Ax-3 crew will spend two weeks conducting scientific research in microgravity, while also working towards Axiom’s goal of building a commercial space station in low Earth orbit.
Launch after minor delays
The mission lifted off on January 18th at 1:54 PM EST, following a 24 hour delay ordered by SpaceX. The crew of 4 launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. They safely entered orbit 11 minutes after liftoff to begin their two day journey, docking with the forward port of the ISS Harmony module on January 20th.
Ax-3 is the first mission in 2024 with humans aboard, demonstrating the normalization of space travel in the growing era of space commercialization. It also represents an expansion of the ISS partner community. While government agencies like NASA have traditionally worked together to fund and operate ISS missions, the Ax-3 crew is the first group of private astronauts to live and work aboard the space station independently. It is facilitated by a partnership between Axiom Space, NASA, and ISS operators.
|Jean Baptiste Perrin
An All-European Crew
The Ax-3 crew is comprised entirely of European astronauts from France, Italy, Sweden, and Turkey. Guvenc, Vilella, and Gezeravci are private spaceflight participants sponsored by the European Space Agency (ESA), while Perrin is an Axiom astronaut.
The mission marks many historic firsts – Paola Vilella becomes the first private Italian astronaut in space, Sufan Guvenc becomes the first private Swedish astronaut, and Burak Gezeravci is now Turkey’s first ever astronaut. Their presence signals Europe’s growing role in the commercialization of space.
These astronauts also represent a changing paradigm. In the past, nearly all astronauts were government employees handpicked after extensive selection processes. But the private Ax-3 crew was chosen by commercial entities through independent means, reflecting a wider pool of candidates. As commercial spaceflights become more common in the coming years, we will continue to see more private astronauts from diverse backgrounds fly to space.
Axiom’s Space Station Goals
For Axiom Space, the Ax-3 mission moves them closer to their goal of building a commercial space station to eventually replace ISS. They were founded in 2016 by NASA veterans and have partnered with SpaceX to launch private crews to the ISS, which serves as a training ground and technology demonstrator.
Axiom plans to first launch modules that will attach to the existing ISS, followed by a fully independent commercial outpost after ISS is retired around 2030. Hosting crews like Ax-3 helps lay the operational groundwork to sustain a permanent human presence in orbit. The private astronauts also conduct microgravity research that supports Axiom’s future space station plans.
Onboard Research Goals
During their stay, the Ax-3 astronauts have a full schedule of science activities planned. Their research includes more than 25 payloads across technology demonstrations, microgravity experiments, biological studies, and more. Some key investigations they will work on:
- Testing EVA spacesuit components from Collins Aerospace in preparation for Axiom’s space station
- BioCell print experiments with Italian startup BeDimensional
- Microgravity production of cancer treatment compounds
- Radiation measurements inside the Ax-3 spacecraft
- ISS infrastructure upgrades like wifi antennas & camera installations
- Educational outreach events with schools in the astronauts’ home countries
The private astronauts will work closely with Axiom, NASA, ESA, and other commercial partners to complete these research objectives. With a diverse manifest touching on both fundamental microgravity science as well as Axiom’s future space station plans, the mission will yield wide ranging returns.
What Comes Next
Now docked and on board the ISS, the four Ax-3 astronauts will spend approximately two weeks living aboard the orbiting laboratory. This begins the busiest phase for the crew as they work through their payload activities while also adjusting to life in microgravity. They will hand over vehicles and experiments left by the previous SpaceX Crew-6 mission, before those NASA astronauts depart the ISS in early February.
Throughout their stay, Commander Perrin and his crew will participate in media interviews and outreach events with students and VIPs back on Earth. Fans can also follow their daily lives via social media.
The Ax-3 astronauts are currently slated to splashdown off the coast of Florida in the first week of February. Upon their return, the four private space travelers will undergo standard post-flight tests and readaptation before finally returning home.
As Axiom works towards launching more modules and future private missions, we can expect to see continued growth in commercial human spaceflight activities. Ax-3 paves the way for that future expansion, while also providing opportunities for research and access to microgravity. After years of planning and coordination, the realization of private flights with companies like SpaceX and Axiom illustrates the emerging new era of commercialization that will shape the next chapter of humanity’s expansion into space.
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