Axiom Space is nearing the launch of its third private astronaut mission (Ax-3) to the International Space Station in partnership with SpaceX. Liftoff is currently scheduled for no earlier than January 18 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Astronauts Prepare for 10-Day Mission Focused on Research
The four crew members set to fly on Ax-3 have been undergoing final preparations ahead of next week’s planned launch, as described by this Spaceflight Now article. Commander Stephen Shpur and pilot Mathias Konn of Germany will lead Mission Specialists Imre Páli of Hungary and Szabolcs Gábor of Bulgaria on a 10-day stay aboard the orbiting laboratory.
While on station, the Ax-3 astronauts will participate in over 25 science, outreach and technology demonstration activities, ranging from physics research to an art project. They will also test upgrades for future space habitats as Axiom Space works to develop its own commercial space station modules that can one day form an independent free-flying outpost after separating from the ISS.
Some key areas of research the private astronauts will be involved in include:
- Demonstrating an innovative spacesuit designed for better mobility and comfort on spacewalks
- Studying microgravity’s effects on brain organoids – small masses of cells that mimic the structure and functionality of human organs
- Testing a smart shirt that provides health monitoring and is easier to put on in weightlessness
- Conducting experiments with plants to understand adaptations to space life
Final Launch Preparations Underway
With liftoff drawing near, teams from Axiom, SpaceX and NASA have been hard at work ensuring all systems are ready for next week’s launch.
On January 10, SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft for Ax-3 arrived at the launch pad where teams integrated it with the Falcon 9 rocket that will carry it into orbit, as seen in photos from Space.com. The day prior, Axiom and SpaceX completed a Flight Readiness Review to officially clear the mission for launch, pending approval from NASA.
NASA will broadcast a series of briefings in the coming days as launch nears, which people can watch on NASA TV:
|Flight Readiness Review Media Briefing
|January 13, 11:30am
|Prelaunch News Conference
|January 16, 1pm
|January 18, TBD
Mission Aims to Advance Commercial Space Industry
Axiom Mission 3 represents a continuing step towards routinely flying private citizens and astronauts to space alongside professional agency crew members. It builds on the success of Axiom’s first two commercial flights in 2022 and SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission in 2021, which demonstrated expanding human access to orbit.
For Axiom Space, Ax-3 provides a platform to test several technologies its engineers have developed to improve comfort and autonomy on long-duration spaceflights. These include the aforementioned advanced spacesuit design and biomonitoring smart garments. Such capabilities will be essential for journeys deeper into space, as noted by experts in this SpaceDaily article.
Additionally, growing commercial utilization of the ISS supports Axiom’s plans to launch and connect its own commercial habitat modules to the station around 2028. As described on Houston We Have a Podcast, Axiom aims for this segment to eventually separate and form the “world’s first commercial space station in low Earth orbit” once ISS is retired.
Outlook: More Private Missions on Horizon
The year ahead is expected to see continued growth in privately funded human spaceflight, building on 2022’s record pace.
Axiom plans to launch at least two more astronaut flights to ISS in 2024 after Ax-3. Competitors like Houston-based Nanoracks also have commercial missions in development using new commercial airlock and docking ports attached outside station.
As the private astronaut industry matures, we can anticipate longer and more ambitious missions enabling not just access to orbit, but perhaps destinations like the Moon as well. Ax-3 represents an early step on that journey.
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