April 8th at 11:17 AM Est from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center
Today, just like the last three on Florida’s space coast the sun rose over two crew capable launch vehicles on adjacent launch pads for the first time since 2009. NASA’s Space Launch System, which rolled out for the first-time last month currently still sits on Launch Complex 39B where a Wet Dress Rehearsal will conclude after the Axiom-1 mission. Just over a mile away, on Launch Complex 39A resides a SpaceX Falcon 9 with Crew Dragon atop the company’s rocket. SpaceX, of course has been shuttling astronauts to and from the International Space Station over the last two years, and also sent the first all civilian crew to orbit last year as well. Today SpaceX has launched the first all private crew on a ten-day journey to the ISS. Once aboard the orbital station the crew will conduct science and push commercial spaceflight forward. Former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, and Eytan Stibbe rode with Axiom Space, the Houston based company which is overseeing the mission.
Contracting SpaceX for the launch transportation and reaching agreements with NASA for the accommodations on the space station Axiom plans to launch a series of crewed missions into space and also plans to launch their own private module which will link up with the station in late 2024. Think hotel in space, and a movie shooting location as well. Axiom Space will eventually detach that module in the future where it will become the centerpiece of a standalone research lab that could be used by commercial customers, or even NASA.
Training in Houston as well as SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne California for their ten-day mission where eight of those days will be spent inside the ISS. These four will conduct science experiments and participate in educational and public outreach activities along with enjoying their time in orbit. With the four private customers, the occupational size of the space station will temporarily raise to eleven people. The Ax1 mission is planned to splashdown on April 18th of the cost of Florida. Just in time for NASA’s Crew-4 mission which will launch no earlier than April 21st and will carry three NASA astronauts and one Italian born European Space Agency astronaut for a nearly five-month mission as they switch out with those of the Crew-3 mission.
You can see from the photos that this Falcon 9 has made a few flights previously. B1062 is making its fifth trip to space now after carrying two U.S. military GPS satellites along with the four-person crew of Inspiration-4, and lastly it flew a Starlink mission back in January of this year. Crew Dragon Endeavor also is no stranger to spaceflight, this being its third journey after bringing Bob Behnken and Doug Hurly to orbit during the DM-2 mission where crewed spaceflight was returned to American soil.
Endeavour then flew the Crew-2 mission where it ended by landing in the Gulf of Mexico in November of 2021. It was then taken back to Dragon Land, or the place where SpaceX refurbishes their crew capsules. Refurbishments took longer than usual due to a large amount of leaked urine that became trapped under the Dragon’s floor when the urine collection system leaked due to a tube failure. SpaceX switched to welding the tube instead of simply gluing it to ensure this issue wouldn’t persist again.
Falcon 9 B1062 will fly northeast from Florida’s space coast to line up with the space station’s orbital track. Once the first stage booster separates from the crew capsule it will begin its descent back down to Earth were it’ll land on the SpaceX drone ship A Shortfall of Gravitas positioned 500km downrange in the Atlantic Ocean. This mission is the first private mission to the ISS along with a few other historic facts for those of us keeping up with Space history. It will be the first ever third launch of a Dragon2, the 147th flight of a Falcon 9 rocket, 87th with a flight proven booster, twelve of those now happening in 2022. Today also marked the thirty-ninth consecutive landing for the company and the forty-sixth mission they’ve launched from LC-39A.