‘Let Freedom fly’: Private Axiom-2 mission launches to ISS
SpaceX launches Axiom Space’s second all-private crewed mission to the International Space Station using its Crew Dragon spacecraft.
Liftoff took place at 5:37 p.m. EDT (21:37 UTC) May 21, 2023, atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Flying aboard Crew Dragon Freedom is Axiom Space astronaut (and former NASA astronaut) Peggy Whitson as spacecraft commander, entrepreneur John Shoffner as the pilot, and two astronauts from Saudi Arabia — Ali AlQarni and Rayyanah Barnawi.
Axiom Space said this mission is the first flight by the company with both private and government sponsored astronauts. It’s also the first private Crew Dragon to be commanded by a woman, and also includes the first Arab female to orbit Earth.
“I first want to congratulate Peggy, John, Ali, and Rayyanah as they start this historic mission,” said Michael Suffredini, president and CEO of Axiom Space, in a company statement. “We are ushering in a new era in commercial human spaceflight that is opening the door to nations, where access to space moves beyond the partners of the ISS to include countries, institutions, and individuals with new ideas fueling human innovation in space. This journey is the culmination of long hours of training, planning, and dedication from the crew and the entire Axiom Space team, our partners at SpaceX, and of course, a credit to NASA’s vision to develop a sustainable presence in low-Earth orbit.”
Sending this crew into space was SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. Its first stage was core B1080, which was on its first flight. Roughly 2.5 minutes into the ascent, the first and second stages detached. The second stage continued pushing the Dragon capsule and Axiom-2 crew toward orbit, reaching it about 6.5 minutes later, while the first stage performed a boostback burn to land at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s Landing Zone 1.
This was the first time a Falcon 9 first stage had returned to a ground-based landing pad after supporting a human spaceflight mission. All previous crewed flights saw the first stage land on a drone ship downrange in the Atlantic Ocean.
The Crew Dragon being used for the Axiom-2 mission is named “Freedom.” It is on its second flight to the space station and is expected to dock around 9:16 a.m. EDT (13:16 UTC) May 22.
Once there, the capsule will dock with the space-facing port of the Harmony module. After leak checks, the hatches between the two vehicles will be opened for the Axiom-2 crew to venture inside the ISS to join the seven-person Expedition 69 crew, which includes NASA astronauts Frank Rubio, Stephen Bowen and Warren Hoburg, Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev, Dmitry Petelin and Andrey Fedyaev.
According to Axiom Space, the plan is for the Axiom-2 crew to spend about eight days docked to the outpost to perform more than 20 experiments and technology demonstrations. Undocking is scheduled for May 30, pending weather, according to NASA.
Like all Crew Dragon missions, the spacecraft will perform a deorbit burn about a day after undocking to reenter the atmosphere and parachute down to the ocean off the coast of Florida.
This mission comes just over a year after the Axiom-1 mission. Both are the first steps for Axiom Space to gain experience sending crews to the ISS before the company begins flying its own modules to the outpost later this decade.
Axiom Space expects to eventually have its own permanent crew aboard the orbiting laboratory. Once the ISS reaches the end of its life around 2030, the Axiom segment of the outpost is expected to be detached to form an independent free-flying space station.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Peggy Whitson was the first woman to command a Crew Dragon spacecraft. NASA astronaut Nichole Mann was the first woman to command a Crew Dragon overall during the Crew-5 mission. Whitson is the first woman to command a private Crew Dragon mission.
Video courtesy of SpaceX
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.
Correction on a detail: Nicole Mann commanded Dragon Endurance for Crew 5 becoming the first woman to command a Crew Dragon. Not to take away anything from Peggy Whitson.
Fun fact: On this Axiom mission, Peggy will move up to 8th place for most (total) time in space next week, bumping Cosmonaut F. Yurchikhin. If they stay on schedule and come back after 10 days, she will be only four days short of Cosmonaut V. Polyakov at 7th place.
Thank you for that correction. It has been added to the story!
-Derek Richardson, editor