SpaceX’s third private astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS) faced another delay on January 18th due to unfavorable weather conditions. The AX-3 mission was originally scheduled to launch on January 17th but high winds pushed the launch to January 18th. Now weather has caused another 24 hour delay, with the next launch attempt scheduled for January 19th at 11:54 AM EST from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Background on AX-3 Mission
The AX-3 mission is organized by private space company Axiom Space and will launch 4 astronauts to the ISS on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft. This will be the first all-European commercial crew launched to orbit.
The 4 person crew is led by veteran NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría who now works for Axiom. He is joined by European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Andre Kuipers from the Netherlands, British entrepreneur Richard Garriott, and German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst.
AX-3 Crew Members
|Veteran NASA astronaut, now Axiom VP
|Medical doctor and ESA astronaut
|Entrepreneur and private astronaut
|Geophysicist and ESA astronaut
The crew will spend a total of 10 days aboard the ISS to conduct scientific research, outreach, and commercial activities.
This will be the third private crew sent to ISS by Axiom as part of their arrangement with NASA and SpaceX to ferry private astronauts to the orbiting laboratory.
Launch Delayed Again Due to Weather
The first launch attempt on January 17th was scrubbed due to high ground winds exceeding safety limits. The next day another attempt was made but had to be called off due to thick clouds over the launch site.
SpaceX Launch Weather Officer Mark Burger said, “Unfortunately, mother nature dealt us a card today that we couldn’t overcome.”
The weather violated safety rules regarding natural and triggered lightning in the area.
The next launch attempt will be on Thursday, January 19th at 11:54 AM EST, with weather forecasts currently 80% favorable for launch.
Michael Suffredini, President and CEO of Axiom said, “I know I speak for the entire crew when I say we are ready to go explore and work in space when the weather permits our SpaceX ride to take flight. More delicious meals and rest await us until launch day.”
While aboard the ISS, the AX-3 crew members will be kept busy with a full slate of activities.
Over 25 science experiments and technology demonstrations are manifested for the flight. Research areas include cardiovascular health, cancer stem cells, aging, and eye health. New technologies being tested range from space botany to ceramic manufacturing.
The crew will also conduct health monitoring for the ESA astronaut corps and validate a new private astronaut fitness regime developed by the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine.
Educational outreach is another key objective for the mission. The crew plans to engage students across Europe through school contacts, ham radio sessions, Earth observations, and the recording of science lessons.
British crew member Richard Garriott also intends to conduct an art project comparing an artist’s impressions of space with the real experience on orbit.
Furthermore, Axiom Space and the ISS National Lab are sponsoring a contest where K-12 students can propose microgravity experiments to be conducted by the crew.
In addition to research and outreach, commercial interests will be served through corporate sponsorships and partnerships.
For example, Acute Innovations will fly experimental hardware for testing their prognostic tool for predicting infections. SpacePharma provides miniaturized lab technology to enable routine pharmaceutical experiments on orbit.
Other private interests range from marketing activations with German retailer Bauhaus to NFT creation with art curator Next Nature Network.
Axiom Space CEO Suffredini said that commercialization of space is key for making economic growth routine. “It enables us to increase access to space for more people and more purposes.”
Once launched, the AX-3 astronauts will spend 10 days aboard the ISS before returning to Earth. Splashdown off the coast of Florida is scheduled for January 28th.
This will be SpaceX’s fifth human spaceflight to date as they continue to launch private missions for Axiom.
For Axiom Space, this mission moves them closer to their goal of having their own commercial space station module attached to ISS as early as 2024. Eventually, Axiom aims to create an entire free-flying commercial space station to replace ISS once it is retired.
As for research, the experiments conducted by AX-3 will hopefully unlock new discoveries to drive technology advancement and improve life on Earth. From commercial manufacturing to biotech therapies, space-based R&D is fueling innovation.
Furthermore, increased commercial access to low-Earth orbit helps NASA meet its goal to transition ISS operations to the private sector. This then allows NASA to focus efforts on deep space exploration like the Artemis missions back to the Moon.
In summary, while weather has delayed liftoff, Teams are ready to spring into action once conditions improve. The AX-3 mission stands to achieve much not just in microgravity research and outreach, but also in expanding commercialization to make space more accessible.
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