The launch of the Axiom-3 (Ax-3) private astronaut mission to the International Space Station was delayed from its originally planned date of January 18th. SpaceX and NASA are conducting additional pre-launch data reviews before approving the mission to move forward. The earliest possible launch date is now January 19th.
The Ax-3 mission is being conducted by Houston-based company Axiom Space and will launch 4 crew members to the space station on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule. It is the 3rd private astronaut mission arranged by Axiom and the first to have an all European crew.
While delays close to launch are not uncommon in the space industry, this last minute delay highlights the stringent processes in place to ensure mission safety and success.
The Ax-3 astronauts have been training together for months to prepare for their 10 day stay onboard the space station. The crew is made up of:
- Commander Michael López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut now working for Axiom
- Pilot Larry Connor, an American entrepreneur
- Mission Specialist Mark Pathy, a Canadian investor
- Mission Specialist Eytan Stibbe, an Israeli businessman and former fighter pilot
| Larry Connor | American | Pilot
| Mark Pathy | Canadian | Mission Specialist
| Eytan Stibbe | Israeli | Mission Specialist
The crew will live and work aboard the US side of the space station alongside regular ISS crew members. While on board, they will conduct scientific research, outreach activities, and complete technology demonstrations of hardware that could be used on future space stations.
Some key research and activities the Ax-3 crew will be involved in includes:
- Testing smart glasses for assisting astronauts with tasks
- Growing plants without soil using mist and nutrients sprayed on the roots
- Studying brain organoids to analyze changes caused by microgravity
- Conducting Earth observation activities for disaster response efforts
- Educational outreach events with schools and children’s hospitals
Reasons for Delay
On January 17th, just a day before launch, SpaceX announced it was delaying liftoff to no earlier than January 19th. The company stated it needed additional time to review pre-launch technical data. No specific issues were cited as the cause of delay.
Given the extremely rigorous processes in place for human spaceflight missions, it is not unusual for launches to face delays like this. NASA and SpaceX want to ensure everything is perfect before approving launch.
Potential data that still needed reviewing could have included:
- Rocket and spacecraft test results
- Astronaut qualification checks
- Weather forecasts
- Rehearsal feedback
- Any last minute manufacturing or system updates
Delaying launch is always preferable to rushing and potentially overlooking a critical issue. This demonstrates the caution NASA and SpaceX exercise to keep astronauts safe on these groundbreaking private missions.
What Happens Next
With the new target launch date of January 19th, the SpaceX and Axiom teams are working quickly to complete any open reviews from the pre-launch data.
If approved for the 19th, fueling of the Falcon 9 rocket would begin 35 minutes prior to the 2:00pm EST liftoff time. The Ax-3 astronauts will ride to orbit in the Crew Dragon capsule atop the rocket and dock with the space station a day later.
Once docked, the crew can begin their action-packed schedule of research, outreach events, and other activities. They will live and work on the ISS for about 10 days before the return trip home, splashing down off the coast of Florida.
While delays are never ideal, this brief postponement should not greatly impact the overall success of this pathfinding private astronaut mission. It highlights the extreme care taken by all teams involved to ensure flawless execution for these ambitious ventures expanding access to space.
The Ax-3 mission will be a major step forward as we enter a new era of commercial human spaceflight. As the first flight with an all European crew arranged by a private company, it demonstrates expanding opportunities in low Earth orbit.
Despite the last second delay, teams are working quickly to complete open items so this groundbreaking mission can get underway soon. The diligence shown in analyzing all data exemplifies why NASA and SpaceX have safely and successfully worked together on past flights.
When Ax-3 does lift off, it will be an iconic moment as we see private citizens from more countries gaining access to space. The research and activities conducted will offer benefits back on Earth and help pave the way for a thriving commercial economy in LEO.
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