Ax-3 Mission's Commander Michael López-Alegría with Ax-3 Pilot Walter Villadei and Ax-3 Mission Specialist Alper Gezeravcı during pre-flight training. Credits: Axiom Space

Next Axiom Crew Ready for Launch in January With SpaceX

Axiom Space readies Ax-3 mission, with SpaceX delaying the launch pad decision. Flexibility is crucial with a Jan. 9 launch approaching

In anticipation of its upcoming third private astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS) within a month, Axiom Space, in collaboration with NASA and SpaceX, disclosed during an online Pre-Launch briefing on December 13 that preparations for the Ax-3 mission are concluding with a launch opportunity set for January 9, 2024.

This mission will utilize a Crew Dragon spacecraft atop a Falcon 9 rocket, with liftoff scheduled for 8:18 p.m. ET, and docking with the ISS expected around 5:15 a.m. ET on January 11.

The Ax-3 Mission Crew. Credits: Axiom Space
The Ax-3 Mission Crew. Credits: Axiom Space

Sarah Walker, Director of Dragon Mission Management at SpaceX, affirmed that the Ax-3 mission will employ the same Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 booster utilized in the Ax-2 mission back in May. She also emphasized that both vehicles preparations are proceeding according to plan, ensuring a successful launch for Ax-3 in early January.


Advertisement

An all-european crew

Ax-3, a 14-day mission commanded by Axiom’s Chief Astronaut, Michael López-Alegría, is set to include more than 30 experiments and outreach activities.

The crew consists of Walter Villadei, Colonel of the Italian Air Force and Pilot of the Mission for the Crew Dragon, Alper Gezeravcı, fighter pilot with the Turkish Air Force, and Marcus Wandt, the first ESA project astronaut.

The entire Crew will perform various tasks during the flight: Axiom Space President Matt Ondler highlighted the demand for research, noting that they had more research than we could fit into the mission, which I think is a great example of how much demand there is for this kind of work”.

The Ax-3 Mission is part of a series of private astronaut missions to the ISS, with a fourth mission, Ax-4, scheduled for later in 2024. Angela Hart, manager of NASA’s commercial Low Earth Orbit (LEO) development program, highlighted the significance of such missions in stimulating demand and fostering a robust commercial economy in low Earth orbit.

Ax-3 Mission's Commander Michael López-Alegría with Ax-3 Pilot Walter Villadei and Ax-3 Mission Specialist Alper Gezeravcı during pre-flight training. Credits: Axiom Space
Ax-3 Mission’s Commander Michael López-Alegría with Ax-3 Pilot Walter Villadei and Ax-3 Mission Specialist Alper Gezeravcı during pre-flight training. Credits: Axiom Space

In addition to the immediate goals of these missions, Axiom is leveraging them to gain experience for its upcoming commercial modules, which will attach to the ISS. These modules will eventually constitute the core of an independent Axiom Space Station after the ISS’s retirement.

During the conference, Ondler announced that the first of these modules, currently being built in Thales Alenia Space’s facility in Turin, Italy, is now slated to launch approximately at the end of 2026, nearly one year later than initially announced.


Advertisement

New crew-capable launch pad inauguration?

Of course, details regarding the launch pad selection were asked during the conference.

Traditionally, all previous Crew Dragon missions were launched from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at the Kennedy Space Center. Nonetheless, recent developments have seen SpaceX constructing a second Dragon-capable tower at the nearby Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, to facilitate both cargo and crew launches, accelerate launch pace and add redundancy.

Reports in November hinted that SpaceX might opt for SLC-40 for the Ax-3 mission, to avoid scheduling conflicts with the another important launch at LC-39A, the Intuitive Machines’ IM-1 Lunar Lander, required to launch from that pad due to last-minute fueling ops.

The Ax-3 Mission's Crew posing in front of a Falcon 9 Booster inside SpaceX's HangarX. Credits: Axiom Space
The Ax-3 Mission’s Crew posing in front of a Falcon 9 Booster inside SpaceX’s HangarX. Credits: Axiom Space

Walker said that the decision on the launch pad for Ax-3 is still pending. She mentioned, “We are nearing completion with preparations of SLC-40 to support Dragon missions, if needed.” This involves both finalizing the interior of the crew access arm, used by Crew and SpaceX Teams to reach the Dragon hatch, and obtaining “final external approvals” from regulatory agencies.

Ax-3 could still become the first SpaceX’s crewed mission to launch from SLC-40, already other “first”, as the first all-European crew mission to the ISS, and first commercial spaceflight mission made up of government and European Space Agency-sponsored national astronauts.


Advertisement

Edoardo Giammarino

Edoardo Giammarino

Co-Founder & Administrator. Drummer and Red Cross Volunteer, born in 1997. I like analog photography and videomaking. Firmly music-addicted.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *