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February 26, 2024

Historic Launch Sends First Turkish Astronaut and All-European Crew to ISS

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Jan 19, 2024

Today marked a historic milestone for both Turkey and the commercial space industry, as SpaceX successfully launched the Ax-3 mission carrying the first Turkish astronaut along with an all-European crew to the International Space Station (ISS) on a chartered flight.

Launch Scrubbed a Day Prior, Axiom Crew Safely Reaches Orbit

The four Axiom astronauts originally planned to liftoff Wednesday aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, but the launch was scrubbed due to upper level winds.

On the second launch attempt Thursday, the Falcon 9 thundered off the pad at 1:11 p.m, carrying commander Marc Wandt of Sweden as well as pilot Burak Gezeravci of Turkey along with mission specialists Petr Bares of the Czech Republic and Manuel Martinez of Spain.

Around nine minutes after liftoff, the Dragon spacecraft successfully separated from the rocket’s second stage while soaring nearly 200 miles over the north Atlantic ocean. The vehicle then deployed its solar arrays enroute to begin a 29-hour rendezvous with the orbiting outpost.

First Turkish Citizen in Space

38-year-old Gezeravci, a former fighter pilot in the Turkish air force, made history by becoming the first Turkish citizen bound for space. The Ax-3 mission marks Turkey’s maiden human spaceflight, capping years of work by the Turkish Space Agency to develop a national astronaut program.

The three-week stay on board the ISS serves as the prelude to Turkey launching its own space station in 2028 that will host both astronauts and scientific payloads.

Diverse Research Experiments On Board

On their mission dubbed Astropreneurs, the Ax-3 crew will support more than two dozen commercial experiments and technology demonstrations spanning research areas from regenerative medicine to smart materials.

Highlights include:

  • Growing stem cells in microgravity to further develop treatments for cardiovascular diseases as well as age-related conditions.
Experiment Details

Experiment: Effect of Microgravity on Multipotent Stem Cell Development  
Research Area: Regenerative medicine
Organization: Mayo Clinic

Goal: Grow mesenchymal stem cell cultures in space to better understand effects of microgravity and radiation to further develop stem cell therapies for age-related diseases as well as heart and blood vessel conditions.

Approach: Culture stem cells isolated from bone marrow for 5-7 days using a laboratory module developed specifically for microgravity experiments.

Expectations: Microgravity causes changes in stem cells, altering the expression of specific genes. Further analysis on Earth after the cells return could provide insights to develop more effective stem cell therapies.
  • Testing materials such as fiber optic cables in the space environment to assess performance for future data networks in space.
Experiment Details  

Experiment: Space-Qualified Photonics System
Research Area: Space infrastructure  
Organization: Redwire Space

Goal: Validate performance of fiber optic cables and photonics equipment in the space radiation environment through on-orbit testing to aid development of data networks for future space stations.

Approach: Use a testing device to transmit data through fiber optic cables mounted externally on the ISS while monitoring for radiation-induced errors.

Expectations: Quantify radiation effects on photonics devices more accurately to develop mitigation strategies, enabling increased data bandwidth for future missions.
  • Studying chemical reactions using microfluidics technology to improve biomanufacturing processes on Earth.
Experiment Details  

Experiment: Effect of Microgravity on Microfluidic Chemical Reactions
Research Area: Biomanufacturing
Organization: Merck KGaA

Goal: Assess impact of microgravity on mixing and mass transfer within microfluidic devices to determine the potential for such systems to improve biopharmaceutical production processes on Earth.  

Approach: Use an experimental microfluidic reactor inside the ISS to facilitate chemical reactions. Compare against an identical ground reactor to quantify microgravity effects.

Expectations: Determine if microfluidic reactors in microgravity can enable reactions with improved yield, purity compared to normal gravity conditions. This could make biomanufacturing more efficient.

In total, this mission to low Earth orbit facilitates research from over a dozen countries – the most geographically diverse human spaceflight in history.

Crew Handover and Return to Earth

Upon arrival to the station on Friday, the Ax-3 astronauts will receive a warm welcome from the Expedition 67 crew currently aboard the orbital outpost. After a five day handover period, the incumbent ISS crew consisting of NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Warren Hoburg along with UAE astronaut Sultan Alneyadi will return to Earth.

The Ax-3 mission concludes in mid February when Wandt, Gezeravci, Bares and Martinez board their Dragon spacecraft for the journey back home, culminating with splashdown off the coast of Florida.

Outlook: More Axiom Missions in Works

Today’s launch kicks off what’s envisioned to be a yearly flight for Axiom Space who procured the Ax-3 mission from SpaceX as the first fully private human spaceflight to the ISS.

With three successful missions under its belt, the Houston-based company plans to launch a crew of four astronauts next January on Ax-4. Axiom also has their sights set on deploying commercial space station modules to dock with ISS later this decade.

As the era of commercial human spaceflight comes into clear view, SpaceX and Axiom Space now stand poised to regularly send private astronauts to low Earth orbit – both expanding access and catalyzing innovation beyond our planet for the benefit of all.

AiBot

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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