Axiom Space is set to launch its second private mission to the International Space Station on Sunday, May 21, a flight that will mark a series of firsts in space.
10 days Mission Ax-2 to the International Space Station has been cleared for launch, representatives from Axiom Space, NASA and SpaceX said on Saturday (May 20) after completing a final launch readiness review. Takeoff is scheduled for 5:37 p.m. (21:37 GMT) on a SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket and the Dragon capsule, which will launch from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
“It’s obviously a very, very exciting day,” said Derek Hassmann, Axiom space chief of mission integration and operations, told reporters on a conference call this evening. “We have worked for a very, very long time in collaboration with our partners in SpaceX and NASA to get to this point. The crew have worked very hard to train and they are certainly ready to go.”
Related: Ax-2 Private Astronaut Mission Live Updates
More: How to watch the Ax-2 mission launch live online
The mission will be historic; Not only will this be the second fully private mission to the station, but it will also put the first saudi woman in space – Rayyanah Barnawi – as part of the country’s first class of astronauts. The mission commander is Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut who served as the agency’s first female chief astronaut and the first female commander of the space station. Now she will be the first woman to command a private spaceflight.
“Oh, let me tell you, we’re a little excited about this and the fact that we’re going to space soon,” Whitson told reporters on a May 16 conference call.
You can watch the launch of the Ax-2 live online on Space.com, courtesy of SpaceX and NASA. SpaceX’s launch webcast will begin at 2:00 p.m. EDT (6:00 p.m. GMT), while NASA’s live stream will start at 4:30 p.m. EDT (8:30 p.m. GMT). There’s a 60 percent chance of good weather at launch, Space Force weather officials said.
One last rocket check
Benji Reed, SpaceX’s senior director for human spaceflight programs, said a final check of the mission’s Dragon Freedom capsule revealed a problem that needed to be fixed. Nine fasteners on a panel near the top of dragon spaceship had less thermal shield filler material than expected, Reed explained, so a team is using a crane near the rocket to reach the site to fill the gaps in those tethers in time for the flight.
“We’re actually pretty confident that it would be nice if we could fly the dragon that way and then come back and come back with whatever amount of filler we have there. Those analyzes are ongoing,” Reed said. “However, very cautiously, we have decided to go ahead and get these cells to exactly the amount they need to be filled with this heat shielding material on these nine attachments.”
Reed said the process will be completed tonight.
“We expect this to have no impact on launch,” Reed said.
SpaceX uses its Liberty Capsule Dragonto pilot the Ax-2 mission. He previously flew the Crew-4 astronaut mission to the space station for NASA last year. The Falcon 9 rocket on this flight appears to be new, but will return to Earth about nine minutes after launch to land in SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 at nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
A crew ready to fly
The Ax-2 crew represents a diverse group of astronauts. The commander is Whitson, who currently holds records for spending more time in space (665 days) than any other woman or American.
Alongside Whitson will be pilot John Shoffner, an experienced aviator and amateur radio enthusiast. Shoffner is paying for his spaceflight experience under a deal with Axiom Space.
“I feel like I’ve been preparing for this my whole life. I’ve been a space fan since I was a kid,” Shoffner said on May 16. “I grew up at the age of the first space raceso to get here now and have a chance to realize that excitement is very, very powerful for me.”
Whitson and Shoffner will be joined by Saudi astronauts Barnawi and Ali Alqarni, representing the first class of astronauts of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
“We are truly honored and privileged to have you and to be part of this incredible mission,” Alqarni said. said during the briefing on May 16 last week, adding that he and Barnawi “are truly thrilled and excited for our mission and to represent Saudi Arabia on this trip.”
Barnawi added that she felt honored to become the first Saudi woman to fly in space on the mission.
“I am very honored and happy to represent all the dreams and hopes of all the Saudi people and all the women back home,” she told reporters on May 16.
“On May 21, 2023, the Saudi flag will land among the stars,” Barnawi said. wrote in a Twitter post.
The four crew members of Ax-2 will spend just over a week aboard the ISS, conducting more than 20 groundbreaking science experiments, including one that will test how microgravity affects stem cell growth. In addition to science, the crew will engage in public outreach to promote science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) for children around the world. “
We are very excited for the part which will involve interacting with children from all over Saudi Arabia and around the world, talking about our experiences, talking about space and sparking their curiosity about space,” said Barnawi.
As the name suggests, Ax-2 is the second mission Houston, Texas-based Axiom Space has flown to the ISS atop SpaceX hardware. His first mission, Axe-1saw four private astronauts spend over two weeks in microgravity in the orbiting lab on the first fully private mission to the station.
Axiom has already signed an agreement with NASA for a third mission, Axe-3targeted no earlier than 2023. Axiom Space also intends to build a commercial space station in low Earth orbit to help continue research and technology development in space following the impending ISS retirement .
By forming and launching these private missions, Axiom Space hopes to “provide universal access to low Earth orbit so that innovators, governments, and individuals can do the same,” according to his website. The company has a roster made up of former NASA astronauts and program managers alongside luminaries from the aerospace industry.
Editor’s note: You can watch the launch of SpaceX’s private astronaut Ax-2 liveon Space.com on Sunday, May 21 at 5:37 p.m. EDT (21:27 GMT). Space.com editor Tariq Malik contributed to this report.