Four private Axiom Space astronauts returned to Earth in a SpaceX Dragon capsule after spending two weeks aboard the International Space Station performing science and outreach activities.
The crew — spacecraft commander Michael Lopez-Alegria, pilot Larry Connor and mission specialists Eytan Stibbe and Mark Pathy — splashed down in Crew Dragon Endeavour at 1:06 p.m. EDT (17:06 UTC) April 25, 2022, off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, concluding this first-of-its-kind spaceflight.
“Axiom Space is incredibly proud of this mission and these astronauts, whose training rigor and commitment to a robust research portfolio set the standard for future private spaceflight,” Michael Suffredini, president and CEO of Axiom Space, said in a company statement. “The Ax-1 mission is a pathfinder, showing the value of this new method of access to orbit and progress toward Axiom Station, a next generation platform in which the benefits and products of life, work and research in space will be available to a greater number of people.”
Axiom Mission 1, or Ax-1, began April 8, 2022, when the crew launched into space atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The four reached the ISS less than a day later for their private research mission.
This was 63-year-old Lopez-Alegria’s fifth spaceflight. His other four occurred between 1995 and 2007 as a NASA astronaut. This included three space shuttle missions and a seven-month-long mission aboard the ISS as commander Expedition 14.
Lopez-Alegria retired from NASA in 2012 and joined Axiom Space as director of Business Development in 2017 before being selected to command the Ax-1 mission. His cumulative time in space is now 275 days.
The other three crew members paid for their seats. Connor, 72, is an American entrepreneur and philanthropist while Pathy, 52, is a Canadian entrepreneur and philanthropist.
Finally, 64-year-old Stibbe is a former Israeli fighter pilot, investor and philanthropist. He is also the second Israeli to fly into orbit, the first being Ilan Ramon in 2003, who was one of seven killed during the STS-107 space shuttle Columbia accident.
According to Axiom Space, the Ax-1 mission supported 26 science payloads and technology demonstrations throughout its 15-days aboard the ISS. This included studying self-assembly ding technology for space habitats, the demonstration of better air purification units and the first two-way “holoportation” demonstration.
Video courtesy of Spaceflight Insider
Video courtesy of Axiom Space
Ax-1 was initially planned to be docked to the ISS for about eight days. However, high winds in the planned recovery zones extended the crew’s stay by about five days.
Undocking from the ISS occurred at 9:10 p.m. EDT April 24 (01:10 UTC April 25). Less than 20 hours later, the spacecraft jettisoned its trunk and performed a 10-minute deorbit burn to target its splashdown zone.
The capsule was retrieved by SpaceX’s recovery crew and placed on the company’s recovery ship “Megan” within an hour of splashdown. The crew exited the capsule shortly thereafter.
A helicopter flew the crew from “Megan” back to Florida.
This was SpaceX’s second fully-commercial orbital mission and first fully-commercial to the ISS. Including the Crew-3 mission, which is still on orbit, this was SpaceX’s sixth crewed mission since May 2020.
The spacecraft used, Endeavour, completed its third spaceflight and has accumulated about 260 days in orbit.
Axiom Space has charted at least four Crew Dragon flights to the ISS, including Ax-1. Its second mission, Ax-2 is expected to occur about a year from now.
Ultimately, Axiom Space hopes to add commercial modules to the ISS beginning as early as 2024. The company is contracted with NASA to add new modules that could both expand the capabilities of the 20-year-old international outpost as well as set the stage for a stand-alone station.
NASA plans to end the ISS program in early 2031. Axiom Space is one of multiple companies the U.S. space agency is working with to establish commercial follow-on outposts while it shifts its focus on deep space human space exploration.
For the Ax-1 mission, and all future commercial missions to the ISS, Axiom Space paid NASA for station resources and crew time, in addition to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon costs.
The next Crew Dragon launch to the ISS is less than two days away. Crew-4 is set to send NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines and Jessica Watkins and European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti to the outpost for a five-month stay.
Liftoff is scheduled for 3:52 a.m. EDT (07:52 UTC) April 27, also from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The crew will arrive at the ISS about a day later.
The Crew-4 astronauts will relieve the Crew-3 astronauts — NASA’s Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron and ESA’s Matthias Maurer — who have been in orbit since November 2021.
Crew-3 is set to return to Earth within a week of Crew-4’s ISS arrival.
Video courtesy of SpaceX
Video courtesy of Orbital Velocity
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 blog about the International Space Station, called Orbital Velocity.