This Friday, April 8, a capsule Crew Dragon will take off for the International Space Station for a trip of about ten days. A first on the American side… And the start of a regular service for Axiom Space? In any case, the company plans to repeat these private stays several times.
This is already the third “non-scientific” rotation in 8 months.
The first flight of a long series
When the Crew Dragon capsule hit the market, NASA was able to reinstate flights from the United States to the International Space Station, and increase the “non-Russian” contingent on the Station to four permanent astronauts. Less than two years later, the SpaceX vehicle also confirms its place in the field of space tourism, with this Axiom-1 mission.
Of course, there had already been the adventure, last September, of billionaire Jared Isaacman and his “Inspiration4” mission… But the latter only lasted three days, and did not concern the International Space Station. This time, it is indeed a company specializing in space travel that bought its mission with SpaceX, and showed its credentials with NASA to validate a ten-day stay for its wealthy travelers. Exactly like Space Adventures did with the Soyuz capsule flights… But on a different scale.
Are you advancing me 55 million?
Indeed, where Soyuz took only one tourist, or exceptionally two (this was the case last December with Yusaku Maezawa and Yozo Hirano), this first Axiom flight will already have three passengers, accompanied by an experienced astronaut. And a second is already planned within six months…
It is therefore a hope for all the ultra-rich dreaming of orbit, for an even more exclusive ride than in a vehicle from Blue Origin or in the rocket plane from Virgin Galactic. Ultra-rich, indeed, because Axiom did not hide the price of such a ten-day trip: 55 million dollars. For once, everything is included in this price, from the preparation of the flight to the recovery in the Atlantic… Even the drinks (note that alcohol is probably prohibited).
For this first tourist trip to the ISS, Crew Dragon will however have an international crew. First there is the commander, Michael Lopez-Alegria, American-Spanish and ex-astronaut by profession at NASA. Axiom Space has not recruited just anyone, since it already has four spaceflights to its credit, including three in the shuttle and a long mission within the ISS on Soyuz. He is also the second human to have spent the most time in an extravehicular activity (EVA) with 67 hours “outside”!
With this host of choice, Axiom’s three customers are Larry Connor (USA) who received capsule pilot training, Mark Pathy (Canada) and Eytan Stibbe (Israel). Humorously, the mission has already been given the nickname of “boomer expedition”… A hope if you were counting on a belated fortune: Larry Connor is 72 years old this year.
“All inclusive” trip, guaranteed view
This almost 10-day flight will therefore start with a take-off from the Kennedy Space Center, scheduled for this Friday at 5:17 p.m. (Paris) with the “Endeavour” capsule which has already flown for the Demo-2 and Crew-2 missions in 2020. and 2021. The transit to the station will last about twenty hours, and the docking at the station should take place in a fully automated way (although obviously the crew has received the necessary training to act accordingly). It is currently planned that they remain on the station until April 17, with however an uncertainty related to the weather on the site of recovery at sea, which implies a margin of one or two days.
If it is indeed a tourism mission, Axiom and its passengers have communicated on the “imposing” scientific package that the astronauts will carry out once on the ISS. They indeed carry a set of 25 experiences (and undergo a few more before and after their mission), both to keep them occupied, and to give meaning to the journey. Several have also been proposed by the tourists themselves, which is not a bad idea.
There are medical experiments for several American and Canadian hospital groups, a holographic device for “3D communications”, mini-robots whose movements, assemblies and swarm behavior are studied in 0g, a new air filtration, and some carcinogenic stem cells to observe their accelerated growth in weightlessness and compare it to models. However, tourists should not have the right to operate the specific equipment of the ISS experiments, in particular those resulting from international collaboration (the flight offers them access to the modules and equipment of life on board, however).
Let the show begin !
The Falcon 9 rocket that they will use to reach orbit in about ten minutes uses a first stage which will be on its fifth flight, and will take off from the LC-39A launch pad. This is the first time that there have been two rockets with habitable capsules at the two LC-39 sites (the other being the Space Launch System, which expects next Monday to resume its countdown tests) in addition to ‘a decade !
SpaceX will broadcast the liftoff, with a likely take-off around 4 hours before launch, when passengers arrive to don their suits and then settle into the capsule. It will already be the 13thand Flight of the Year for SpaceX.
Source: space flight now