Ax-2: Second-ever all-private astronaut mission to launch this weekend

Ax-2 will be the second-ever private astronaut mission to the International Space Station.
Chris Young
The launch of Ax-1.
The launch of Ax-1.

SpaceX / YouTube 

SpaceX and Axiom Space have received the green light to launch Ax-2 this weekend.

The mission, the second all-private astronaut trip to the International Space Station (ISS), is expected to lift off on the afternoon of Sunday, May 21.

The news comes after NASA, SpaceX, and Houston-based Axiom Space performed a successful flight readiness review (FRR) yesterday, May 15.

SpaceX scheduled to launch Ax-2 this weekend

The Ax-2 mission is the follow-up to last year's Ax-1 mission. Ax-1 wasn't the first time civilians traveled to the ISS — Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, had previously flown non-astronauts to the space station aboard their Soyuz launch vehicle. However, Ax-1 was the first mission to the ISS without a single serving astronaut or cosmonaut aboard.

The same will be the case for Ax-2. Much like Ax-1, the crew for the upcoming mission will feature a former NASA astronaut — in this case, Peggy Whitson. Whitson has a strong track record, having spent a total of 665 days off Earth — more than any other American astronaut.

Two of the crew members, Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali AlQarni, will become the first Saudi Arabians to visit the ISS. Barnawi will be the first Saudi woman to ever go to space. The fourth and final crew member is U.S. investor John Shoffner.

Axiom Space's civilian space missions

Now that SpaceX and Axiom Space have the green light, Ax-2 is currently scheduled to launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket at 5:37 pm EDT (2137 GMT) on Sunday from NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.

The crew will then ride a Crew Dragon spacecraft for roughly a day before reaching the ISS. Once there, the Ax-2 mission is expected to spend eight days docked at the orbital space station.

During the Ax-1, the mission's civilian astronauts carried out tasks, including scientific experiments, commercial duties, as well as outreach events via video conference. The experiments included "self-assembling technology for future space habitats, cell samples, and more," Axiom explained in a statement last year.

In 2021, SpaceX also sent an all-civilian mission, Inspiration4, into orbit for four days, though that mission didn't dock with the ISS. Axiom Space, meanwhile, recently unveiled the spacesuit that astronauts will use for NASA's next Moon landing missions.

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