Ax-2: SpaceX's Falcon 9 and Dragon are on the launch pad ahead of private ISS mission

Axiom Space and SpaceX's second all-private astronaut mission is due to launch to the ISS this weekend.
Chris Young
Falcon 9 and Dragon at the launch pad.
Falcon 9 and Dragon at the launch pad.

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SpaceX has rolled its Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule out to the launch pad ahead of the all-private Ax-2 astronaut mission this weekend.

The private space firm shared images on Twitter of the launch system, which is now vertical on the iconic launch pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Ax-2 is scheduled to launch a crew of four atop Falcon 9 at 5:37 pm EDT (2137 GMT) on Sunday.

Ax-2 scheduled to launch this weekend

Ax-2 was chartered by the Houston-based firm Axiom Space, which also designed NASA's new Moon landing spacesuits.

The mission will send four people to the International Space Station (ISS) for an eight-day stay.

The Ax-2 mission is the follow-up to Axiom Space's civilian Ax-1 mission last year. Ax-1 sent a crew of four people, including a former NASA astronaut to the ISS. It was the first mission to ever launch to the ISS with no serving astronauts aboard. Russian space agency Roscosmos had also previously flown civilians to the ISS, though it did so with a crew commanded by a serving cosmonaut.

Much like Ax-1, the crew of Ax-2 will feature a former NASA astronaut. In this case, the mission commander will be Peggy Whitson. Whitson has spent a total of 665 days off Earth — more than any other American astronaut.

The other three crew members are US investor John Shoffner, and Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi, who will become the first Saudi Arabians to visit the ISS. Barnawi will be the first Saudi woman to fly to space.

Private space missions

Ax-1 flew four people to orbital station for over two weeks in April 2022. During that time, 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.

Ax-2 has two brief launch windows this month. If it encounters problems and the launch is scrubbed, SpaceX and Axiom Space will likely have to reschedule for much later as the launch schedule to the ISS is packed over the coming weeks and months.

In 2021, SpaceX also sent an all-civilian mission, Inspiration4, into orbit for four days, though that mission didn't dock with the ISS. The private space firm also recently rolled another Starship prototype out to a suborbital pad ahead of a "static fire" engine test in preparation for the second Starship orbital launch attempt.

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