European astronauts ready for first fully private trip to space station
The four astronauts slated to fly on Axiom Space’s upcoming Ax-3 mission are ready and eager for their historic launch to the International Space Station (ISS) after a minor one-day delay. Originally set for liftoff on January 18, the mission has been pushed back 24 hours to January 19 due to additional pre-flight checks being conducted by SpaceX on the mission’s Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule.
The Ax-3 astronauts – mission commander Marcus Wandt of Germany along with pilots Octavio Camino of Spain, Beth Moses of the United Kingdom, and Jonathan Scanlon of Ireland – have been preparing intensively for this flight over the past two years. This will be the first fully private crew launched to the ISS, continuing a growing trend of commercialization in low Earth orbit.
Crew ready to conduct research and outreach
During their planned 14 day stay on the ISS, the Ax-3 astronauts will work on over 25 technology demonstrations and research experiments spanning pharmaceutical developments to reusable thermal protection systems. They will also engage in educational outreach with students across Europe.
“Our crew is ready and eager to demonstrate how increased commercial access to low Earth orbit can benefit people on Earth through scientific research and technology development,” said Axiom CEO Michael Suffredini. “Ax-3 marks a major step forward in Axiom’s vision of a thriving commercial economy in space.”
The Ax-3 mission has involved partnerships with over a dozen companies and organizations across Europe. Key contributors have included the European Space Agency, Airbus, and the UK Space Agency.
Launch preparations in final stages
In the days leading up to the planned January 19 launch, the Ax-3 astronauts have been busy with specialized training at their Commercial Crew quarters in Florida. They have conducted multiple simulated missions and studied up on all key procedures they must follow once on orbit.
The Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule that will ferry them into space have also undergone extensive testing and checkout processes to verify full mission readiness. Teams have resolved all minor technical issues that originally prompted the one-day launch delay.
“With clearance from the Flight Readiness Review Board, teams are working toward a Jan. 19 launch,” NASA officials said in a statement. Weather forecasts currently predict an 80% chance of favorable conditions for liftoff.
Spectators encouraged to watch history in the making
Hundreds of thousands of spectators are expected to gather along Florida’s Space Coast to witness the milestone Ax-3 launch. For those unable to view in person, Axiom and SpaceX are providing special live coverage online and on TV.
“We encourage people across Europe and the world to watch this historic moment as the dawn of a new commercial era in human spaceflight,” Axiom representatives stated.
The launch is currently scheduled for 1:10 PM EST on January 19th from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A. Liftoff will be followed shortly by the awe-inspiring sight and roar of the Falcon 9’s booster returning to land on a drone ship stationed offshore.
Approximately 27 hours after launch, the Crew Dragon capsule will arrive and dock with the forward port of the ISS Harmony module, allowing the Ax-3 astronauts to enter their orbital home for the next two weeks.
Mission Timeline Overview
|Liftoff from Kennedy Space Center on SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule. Autonomous docking with ISS ~27 hours after launch.
|Docked Operations Days 1-13
|Conduct research experiments and technology demonstrations aboard the ISS along with public outreach events.
|End of Mission Day 14
|Farewell ceremony on ISS and undocking of Crew Dragon.
|Crew Dragon autonomously re-enters Earth’s atmosphere and splashes down off the coast of Florida. Astronauts return home via plane.
Researchers eager for microgravity experiments
Researchers across Europe eagerly await the scientific results generated during the Ax-3 mission’s two week stint in microgravity.
“The experiments conducted on Ax-3 will build our understanding of how different materials, organisms, and physiological processes behave in the space environment,” explained Dr. Lakshmi Krishnan, Professor of Bioengineering at Cambridge University and Principle Investigator on several Ax-3 payloads.
“Beyond advancing science itself, this research helps pave the way for longer-duration space habitation and exploration far beyond Earth orbit. Ax-3 demonstrates the immense promise of our continued expansion into space when government agencies, private companies, academia, and the public work together.”
Axiom lays groundwork for commercial space station
The Ax-3 mission serves as another stepping stone for Houston-based company Axiom Space as it works to build humanity’s next space station. Axiom has partnered with NASA on developing privately funded ISS modules that will eventually become a free-flying commercial outpost in low Earth orbit.
“Ax-3 helps prove private astronaut flights to space station are not only feasible, but routine and preferable in many ways over traditional government-controlled missions,” said Axiom Co-founder and President Dr. Kam Ghaffarian.
“The success of this international crew further boosts confidence in Axiom as we drive towards providing the world’s premiere space destination.”
The historic Ax-3 mission’s combination of research, private funding models, and public inspiration promises to usher in a new era of commercialization both in low Earth orbit and throughout the cosmos.
What’s next after Ax-3
As the Ax-3 crew begins their stay aboard the ISS, preparation work is gearing up for Axiom’s next private astronaut flight tentatively slated for later this year. Ax-4 is due to transport a crew of 4 – including America’s first African-American female ISS commander – along with more technology and research payloads.
With NASA eager to stimulate commercial activity in LEO, Axiom also continues forward with development of the ISS nodes that will eventually form the Axiom Segment. Planned for launch in 2028, this commercial module will host private astronauts on a routine basis and catalyze a thriving LEO economy.
Axiom also eyes human missions deeper into space. “While we firmly establish routine operations in Earth orbit, our sights remain set on the Moon, Mars, and beyond,” Suffredini said. “Ax-3 gives people across the world an up-close look at our know-how delivering safe, reliable, and productive missions to space.”
With final preparations nearing completion, everything remains on track for Axiom Space’s Ax-3 mission to embark on its landmark flight this coming Thursday, January 19th. Fourprivate astronauts are set to launch from Florida bound for the ISS, achieving multiple first-ever milestones.
The two-week flight will advance scientific research in areas like biotechnology while setting the stage for further expansion of humanity’s presence among the stars through venues like Axiom’s planned commercial space station.
Ax-3 demonstrates that the burgeoning commercialization of low Earth orbit is no longer a distant dream but rather a very near-term reality. Private companies have proven their ability to safely send astronauts into space, enabling new avenues of research and business innovation. As the world watches this week, a new chapter in the history of space exploration is about to unfold.
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