Launch Date Pushed Back Due totechnical Issues
Axiom Space is poised to make history again with the upcoming launch of the Ax-3 mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Originally set for Wednesday, January 18th, the launch date has now been pushed back to no earlier than Thursday, January 19th due to technical issues identified during standard pre-flight checkouts.
The Ax-3 mission will send four astronauts to the ISS for a ten day stay using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft launching from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This will be the first time an all-European commercial crew will visit the station.
Crew and Mission Overview
The Ax-3 astronauts are:
- Commander Michael López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut now working for Axiom
- Pilot Larry Connor, an American entrepreneur and non-profit activist
- Mission Specialist Eytan Stibbe, an Israeli businessman and fighter pilot
- Mission Specialist Mark Pathy, a Canadian investor and philanthropist
They will live and work aboard the ISS conducting over 25 science experiments, outreach activities, and technology demonstrations during their 10 day mission.
Some of the key activities planned include:
- Research on brain health and aging using a special EEG headset
- Testing a smartwatch app to provide personalized nutrition recommendations
- Demonstrating robotic in-space manufacturing of optical fibers
- Educational outreach events with students on Earth
- Releasing a special teddy bear named “Gigi” in zero gravity to inspire young students
The mission is made possible by a partnership between Axiom Space, SpaceX, and NASA to open up low-Earth orbit to more commercial opportunities.
Launch Delayed to Thursday Due to Parachute Issues
The Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule were originally scheduled to lift off on January 18th. However, during standard pre-flight testing, engineers identified an issue with two of the four parachutes on the Dragon spacecraft.
SpaceX will be swapping those parachutes for new ones before setting a new target launch date of no earlier than January 19th. Launch time is set for 10:34 am EST, with backup launch opportunities on January 20th and 21st if needed.
Ax-3 Updated Launch Schedule
Original Date: January 18
New Date: January 19
Launch Time: 10:34 am EST
Backups: January 20-21
Once the parachute issues have been fully resolved and conditions are acceptable, the spacecraft will lift off from Launch Complex 39A, the same site used for Apollo and shuttle missions. The Falcon 9’s first stage booster is expected to land on a droneship approximately eight minutes after liftoff.
This will be SpaceX’s first launch of 2024 as they continue their rapid pace of missions. The delay allows engineers extra time to double check all systems are good to go before the four Ax-3 astronauts begin their journey to orbit.
Historic First All-European Commercial Crew
What makes the Ax-3 mission truly historic is its crew composition. This marks the first time an all-European crew will be launching to the ISS on a private commercial spacecraft.
The four international crew members represent countries across Europe, including Spain, Israel, Canada, and Italy. They will conduct scientific experiments spanning life sciences, optics, health, and more over their ten days aboard the floating laboratory.
In addition, they have a packed schedule of Earth observation, outreach events, and educational activities planned. From chatting with students across Europe to releasing a special zero gravity indicator teddy bear named Gigi, they aim to inspire young people and expand access to space.
This diverse makeup of the Ax-3 astronauts demonstrates the expanding role commercial companies like Axiom play in making space more inclusive and available to broader groups of people.
Pathfinders for a Commercial Space Station
The Ax-3 mission also serves as a pathfinder for Axiom Space’s goals of deploying the world’s first commercial space station. They have plans to launch multiple modules over the next few years which will attach to the existing ISS.
Once the ISS is retired near the end of the decade, the Axiom station will detach and operate as a free-flying commercial outpost in low-Earth orbit. This will allow research and commerce in space to continue while opening up new opportunities in areas like space tourism.
Mark Pathy, one of the Ax-3 crew members, said it best when describing the importance of their upcoming flight:
“This mission helps pave the way for the construction of Axiom Station, the world’s first commercial space station on which passengers will visit, live and work and which will provide new and broader opportunities for research and commerce in low Earth Orbit well into the future.”
The Ax-3 mission is a major milestone towards that goal. The data collected from experiments conducted on Ax-3 will help shape the capabilities and research plans for the future Axiom Station.
And the all-European crew demonstrates the global interest in commercial human spaceflight opportunities. Axiom hopes to attract future astronauts and customers from countries all across the world.
Outlook: Launching Soon if Tests Go Well
With the launch date now pushed to January 19th at the earliest, all eyes are on the pre-flight activities. The SpaceX and Axiom teams are working quickly to swap out the two suspect parachutes and run additional tests on theDragon spacecraft.
Barring any major new issues cropping up, liftoff is expected by 10:34 am EST on Thursday. The Ax-3 crew is eager to get their historic mission underway after months of training and preparation.
Once in orbit, their jam-packed schedule will keep them busy with a full slate of science and outreach activities. And they are sure to capture the hearts and imaginations of people across Europe and the world as the first all-commercial crew to visit the ISS.
The mission paves the way for Axiom Space’s goals of launching their own commercial space station later this decade. And it expands opportunities for more private citizens to experience the wonders of human spaceflight.
After overcoming delays, the countdown is back on towards launching Axiom’s bold vision of a thriving commercial future for humans in low Earth orbit.
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