SpaceX Launches Fresh Batch Of Private Astronauts To Space Via Axiom Ax-3 Mission

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Within years of becoming the first company in human history to have flown astronauts to space, SpaceX hasn’t looked back since then. The firm sent another complement of astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) earlier today as the Falcon 9 lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida with the Ax-3 mission on board. Apart from flying government sponsored and trained astronauts to space, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon has also flown private missions.

Today’s mission was Crew Dragon’s fourth private launch to space and the third for Axiom Space on SpaceX’s spacecraft. Its launch saw a crew of European astronauts start their journey to the ISS to conduct research and expand their nation’s space access.

SpaceX Launches Ax-3 Mission After Making Upgrades To Its Ship And Rocket

After their successful liftoff at 4:49 p.m. Eastern time earlier today, the Ax-3 crew will spend more than a day in space before they dock to the ISS early morning on Saturday. The mission marked SpaceX’s 301st overall launch and the 11th operational mission of the Crew Dragon 2 spacecraft. SpaceX’s Dragon is the only U.S. spacecraft capable of sending astronauts to space, and before today’s mission, the firm spent some time ensuring that its parachutes would deploy without any potential mishaps.

During a teleconference for today’s mission, SpaceX’s Benji Reed explained that SpaceX had to rework some portions of the parachute connector system after it discovered abnormal behavior on a Cargo Dragon 2. SpaceX was initially slated to launch Ax-3 yesterday; however, the mission was delayed by a day.

Another upgrade on the rocket involved the connectors between the second stage and the Crew Dragon, with SpaceX swapping out some equipment before liftoff and static fire.

The Axiom Space Ax-3 mission lifts off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on top of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. Image: SpaceX

NASA announced the Ax-3 mission in 2023 and Axiom Space soon chose veteran NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría as mission commander. Apart from Commander López-Alegría, all other astronauts on the mission are marking their first flight to space. Their commander has flown several times and is currently retired.

As opposed to SpaceX’s NASA crew rotations, the Ax-3 crew will spend two weeks in space before returning to Earth. This is far below Crew Dragon’s operational capability as SpaceX’s ship is designed to stay docked to the ISS for six months. However, since NASA charges private companies to use the ISS, most private ISS missions try to be as short as possible to complete their research objectives.

The crew is slated to conduct more than two dozen experiments while in orbit onboard the ISS. Some experiments currently on their way to the ISS include investigations to study biomarkers in space, proteins involved in neurological disease and a suit designed to monitor astronaut body movement in space.

They will rest for eight hours during their flight and a little over 20 minutes after liftoff, SpaceX cleared the crew to remove their spacesuits.

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