Axiom-1 launches first ever private crewed mission to ISS

by Justin Davenport

SpaceX and Axiom Space launched the AX-1 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday, April 8, 2022, at 11:17:11 am EDST / 15:17:11 UTC from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The first private crewed mission to the station is using the Crew Dragon Endeavour, flying its third mission, and will remain docked to the ISS for 8 days out of the planned 10-day flight. 

The Crew Dragon Endeavour is making its third trip to the space station on this mission following the Demo-2 flight with Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley that returned the US to the human spaceflight business in May-August 2020 as well as the Crew-2 mission with Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, Akihiko Hoshide, and Thomas Pesquet over that 199-day flight to the ISS last year.

Endeavour rode into orbit atop Falcon 9 B1062, making its fifth flight. B1062’s four previous flights included two GPS missions, the first private human orbital spaceflight in Inspiration4, and Starlink 4-5.

The mission launched into a 51.6-degree orbit, flying a northeast trajectory from Kennedy. The booster also landed on the A Shortfall of Gravitas drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean off the US southeast coast. 

Endeavour reached orbit eight minutes 48 seconds after liftoff and separated from the second stage of the Falcon 9 after 12 minutes 57 seconds of flight. 

The capsule then began a series of phasing burns to rendezvous with the ISS for docking just over 20 hours after launch.

The launch window for Friday’s attempt was instantaneous at 11:17:11 EDT / 15:17:11 UTC, as is typically the case with Falcon 9 launches to ISS. 

Endeavour will dock with ISS around 6:45 a.m. EDT EDT / 12:45 UTC Saturday, April 9.

After docking, the Ax-1 crewmembers will spend the next 8 days at ISS conducting up to 25 scientific experiments as well as outreach work. Time will also be taken to familiarize the crew with the station’s surroundings.

The Axiom-1 crew. Left to right: Mark Pathy, Larry Connor, Michael López-Alegría, and Eytan Stibbe. (Credit: Axiom)

Some experiments that have been highlighted include 

The Ax-1 mission is the 13th flight of Falcon 9 in 2022, and the second orbital human spaceflight of the year after Soyuz MS-21. This flight will also bring the ISS occupancy to 11 astronauts for 8 days, which along with the Chinese Shenzhou-13 crew members aboard the Tiangong space station will make for 14 people in orbit.

This would tie a record set by SpaceX when Inspiration 4 launched in September 2021 while seven crew on the ISS and three on China’s space station were already in orbit.

The Ax-1 mission will also be the first step for Axiom Space to gain critical experience in space station operations as the company is beginning to build what will become a successor to the ISS at the end of this decade when the station service life ends.

The crew

Aboard the Endeavour, Axiom Space’s Ax-1 crew is commanded by former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, along with fellow American Larry Connor, Canadian Mark Pathy, and Israeli Eytan Stibbe.

Lopez-Alegria, 63, born in Madrid, Spain, but raised in Mission Viejo, California, flew on three Space Shuttle flights and one Soyuz rotation mission to ISS.

The former naval aviator and engineer’s first trip to space was aboard the shuttle Columbia on STS-73 in October 1995. This was a Spacelab flight, the US Microgravity Laboratory-2 mission.

He also flew on two assembly missions to the ISS, STS-92 aboard Discovery in October 2000 and STS-113 aboard the shuttle Endeavour in November 2002. He conducted five spacewalks in support of assembly objectives totaling 34 hours and 25 minutes.

Lopez-Alegria’s last mission before Ax-1 was commanding ISS Expedition 14 from September 2006 to April 2007. He launched to the station aboard Soyuz TMA-9 and landed in the Kazakh steppe after seven months aboard the outpost.

With the Ax-1 flight aboard Crew Dragon Endeavour, he will have flown aboard three different crew vehicles operated by two nations.

Larry Connor, Axiom-1 pilot. (Credit: SpaceX)

Joining Lopez-Alegria is Larry Connor of Dayton, Ohio. Connor will become the first private-mission pilot to fly a mission to ISS.

Connor, 72, is an entrepreneur who founded the real estate investment firm The Connor Group and is also a private aerobatic pilot, car racer, and diver who has carried out dives in the Mariana Trench. 

On this flight, he is carrying a piece of cloth from the Wright Flyer as well as three items from the Armstrong Air & Space Museum in Wapakoneta, Ohio.

Mark Pathy, 52, of Montreal, Quebec, is the CEO of Canadian private investment company Mavrik. Like Connor, Pathy is also a philanthropist.

He will become the 12th Canadian in space and the second private Canadian orbital spaceflight crew member after Guy Laliberte who flew to the International Space Station as a tourist aboard Soyuz TMA-16 in September 2009.

Mark Pathy. (Credit: Axiom)

Eytan Stibbe, 64, of Ramat Gan, Israel, is an investor, philanthropist, and retired fighter pilot who flew the A-4 Skyhawk, F-4 Phantom, and F-16 during his Israeli Air Force service. 

Col. Ilan Ramon was his commanding officer while Stibbe was assigned to 117 Squadron, and Stibbe achieved ace status, shooting down five Syrian aircraft during the 1982 war in Lebanon.

After his military service, Stibbe worked at Israel Aircraft Industries, was a founder of Elar (a company that set up infrastructure in developing countries), and established the Vital Capital Fund in 2010 while also working on several philanthropic projects.

In 2010, Stibbe helped establish the Ramon Foundation in memory of Ilan and Asaf Ramon. 

Eytan Stibbe. (Credit: University of Haifa)

He will become the second Israeli in space after Ilan Ramon. Ramon flew as a Payload Specialist aboard the shuttle Columbia on the STS-107 mission and tragically lost his life with his fellow crewmembers on February 1, 2003, when Columbia broke up during atmospheric reentry at the end of what had been an incredibly successful multi-national scientific research flight.

A diary Ramon had aboard Columbia survived and was recovered on the ground in Texas. A portion journal contained the phrase “Rakia,” translated as “sky” in English.

Stibbe has named his mission Rakia in honor of Ramon.

Stibbe will be the first Israeli to visit the ISS.

(Lead image: Axiom-1 on the launch pad. Credit: Stephen Marr for NSF/L2)

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