Axiom Space is preparing to launch its third private astronaut mission (Ax-3) to the International Space Station (ISS) on January 18th. This will be the first mission with a crew comprised entirely of European astronauts launching from American soil.
Launch Scheduled January 18 From Kennedy Space Center
The Ax-3 mission is scheduled to liftoff at 1:24pm EST on January 18th atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida . The four Ax-3 astronauts completed final preparations and simulations ahead of Wednesday’s launch .
The crew will ride to orbit aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, which will autonomously dock with the space station a day after launch. The Ax-3 astronauts are slated to live and work aboard the ISS for eight days before departing and splashing down off the coast of Florida.
|Frank De Winne
Table 1: Ax-3 crew members and roles
All-European Crew A First For Private Mission
The Ax-3 mission marks the first time a privately-funded space mission will launch an all-European crew from the U.S. Previously, international astronauts flying commercial missions originated from the country funding their seat .
Axiom CEO Michael Suffredini said “We sought to inspire students and researchers in Europe when contracting this first all-European private crew for Axiom Space. This mission shows private companies can provide services to space agencies.”
Mission To Test Technologies For Long Duration Spaceflight
In addition to its historic European crew, the Ax-3 mission will test technologies needed for long duration spaceflights. Experiments include air scrubbers for life support systems and a spacesuit from Collins Aerospace designed for spacewalks outside the ISS .
The experiments demonstrate Axiom’s vision of using the ISS as a platform for tech needed on the company’s planned commercial space station.
Teddy Bear ‘Gigi’ Flies Again To Inspire Students
Build-A-Bear’s specially modified Gigi teddy bear will also make a repeat trip to space as part of an education initiative for students. Gigi contains two voice recorders to capture the sounds of launch and life in zero gravity aboard the ISS .
“We hope Gigi’s journey inspires the next generation of space explorers,” said Sharon Price John, Build-A-Bear CEO. Over 300,000 classrooms will get access to Gigi’s recordings after she returns.
Launch Dependent On Favorable Weather
As with all launches, getting off Earth depends on the weather cooperating. Forecasts currently show a 90% chance of acceptable conditions for liftoff on Wednesday .
If needed, backup launch opportunities are available on January 19th and 20th.
What’s Next After Ax-3
Ax-3 is the first of at least four crewed flights to the ISS that Axiom has contracted through SpaceX. While short private astronaut visits provide important funding to sustain ISS operations, they also demonstrate Axiom’s ability to train crews and integrate technology experiments needed for the company’s own station.
As early as 2028, Axiom plans to launch the first two modules of a commercial space station to dock with ISS . Once construction is complete, Axiom’s station segments will detach from ISS to become a free-flying platform.
While projects like the Ax-3 mission push boundaries today, they represent crucial steps towards making space accessible to more people and organizations in the future.
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