Liftoff of Ax-3. Credits: SpaceX

Ax-3: The All-European Crew is Headed To The ISS

For the first time, an all-European commercial crew (Ax-3) launched into space on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9, onboard the Crew Dragon Freedom toward the ISS

The third private mission of Axiom Space, Axiom Mission 3 (Ax-3), began on January 18, 2024, at 21:49 UTC with the launch of the Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center, at pad LC-39A. The booster B 1080 landed at Landing Zone 1 at 21:57, while Crew Dragon Freedom separated from the second stage 12 minutes after liftoff, perfectly en route to the ISS. The spacecraft will dock at the front port of the Harmony module on January 20, 2024, at 10:15 UTC.

Ax-3 crew: all-European, but not ESA-only

Ax-3 crew is the first one to go into space made by European astronauts only:

  • Michael López-Alegría, the Spanish-American crew Commander, participated in five space missions, four for NASA (STS-73, STS-92, STS-113, and Expedition 14/Soyuz TMA-9) and one for Axiom (Ax-1). He is the chief astronaut for Axiom Space, engaged to forge the new paradigm of commercial human spaceflight.
  • Walter Villadei, the pilot of the mission, is a colonel of the Italian Air Force and participated in another commercial space mission by Virgin Galactic (Galactic-01). Not an ESA astronaut, VIlladei was trained as a Soyuz flight engineer and prepared for EVAs with the Orlan system. His engagement in commercial missions is leading the way to a new model of private and government agreement to send astronauts to space.
  • Alper Gezeravcı, a mission specialist, is a commander of the Turkish Air Force and the first Turkish astronaut to go into space.
  • Markus Wandt, a mission specialist, is an ESA astronaut selected in 2022 and the second Swedish to go to space. Selected as a reserve, he got to the project astronaut role for the Ax-3 mission, the first time for an ESA astronaut on an Axiom flight.
Astronauts Marcus Wandt, Walter Villadei, Michael López-Alegría, and Alper Gezeravcı seated on Crew Dragon Freedom. Credits: SpaceX.
Astronauts Marcus Wandt, Walter Villadei, Michael López-Alegría, and Alper Gezeravcı seated inside Crew Dragon Freedom. Credits: SpaceX

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Fourteen days full of activities

The Ax-3 crew will have a full schedule while on the ISS, including microgravity research and technology demonstrations. The experiments are carried out in collaboration with government agencies, universities, and private companies, spreading over various research areas. These include studies on stem cells, gene editing, and the effect of microgravity on humans.

Ax-3 Pilot Walter Villadei is practicing research operations in the HERA glovebox. Credits: Axiom Space.
Ax-3 Pilot Walter Villadei is practicing research operations in the HERA glovebox. Credits: Axiom Space

The trials involving non-space companies are of particular relevance since they unlock the industrial potential of the microgravity environment.

The Italian race car company Dallara collaborates on one of the key technological investigations of the mission. The project aims to evaluate the effectiveness of various racing textile materials in countering radiation during spaceflight for future applications in space stations, spacecraft, and even space suits.

Another Italian company, the food enterprise Barilla, is involved in a culinary experiment: launching 3 Kg of their best fusilli to be tasted in space, thanks to an innovative receipt (for more details, see our previous article Italian Astronaut Villadei Will Test Barilla New Tastes on ISS).


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Axiom’s Way: redefining the path to LEO

The first Axiom missions to the ISS aim to help expand a new era of privatized use of the space environment, enabling the development of a robust and sustainable market in low Earth orbit (LEO). This new economic paradigm will be the foundation for their next big project, the first commercial space station, called Axiom Station.

Axiom Station in Low Earth Orbit, artistic impression. Credits: Axiom Space.
Axiom Station in Low Earth Orbit, artistic impression. Credits: Axiom Space

The construction of the first station module has already begun at Thales Alenia Space factory in Turin, Italy, for a possible launch in 2026. At first, it will operate attached to the International Space Station as an additional module, followed by other modules. This first core of Axiom Station will be detached from the ISS before its decommissioning, forming a new autonomous commercial outpost in LEO.


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Giancarlo Albertinazzi

Giancarlo Albertinazzi

Space Ambassador, Terranaut, Future Spacepolitan, Writer of Becoming Spacepolitans Blog

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