Axiom Space names Ax-3 astronaut crew for SpaceX mission to ISS

By | September 14, 2023

Axiom Space’s recently announced third astronaut crew includes a mix of space backgrounds.

Based in Houston Space of axioms has named the full crew of four who will fly to the International Space Station on the Ax-3 mission no earlier than January 2024, in a company announcement Tuesday (September 12). Axiom describes the venture as the first all-European trade mission.

The crew will be led by the former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, a dual US-Spanish citizen who also had command Axe-1 in 2022. On board there will also be the Colonel of the Italian Air Force Walter Villadei, who flew in suborbital space with Galactic Virgothe first commercial launch of in June; Marcus Wandt of Sweden, a European Space Agency astronaut; and the first Turkish citizen in space, Alper Gezeravcı. It will be the sixth mission for López-Alegría, the second for Villadei and the first for Wandt and Gezeravcı.

Ax-3 will be launched to the ISS by NASA Kennedy Space Center using SpaceX‘lives Dragon spacecraft, which is the only American vehicle currently certified by NASA to carry humans to and from the orbiting complex, atop SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. (Axiom signed an agreement with SpaceX in 2021 to carry three additional crews into space, following its first mission to the space station, Ax-1.)

Related: NASA and Axiom Space sign up for fourth private astronaut mission to space station

Wandt’s choice for Ax-3 had already been made public in June, and Villadei was associated with the mission at least as early as August, according to one post from Villadei on X (formerly Twitter.) López-Alegría and Gezeravcı are the new additions to the crew. NASA regulations updated after Ax-1 specify that all commercial missions must be commanded by a former NASA astronaut.

López-Alegría is a three-year veteran Space Shuttle missions: STS-73 in 1995, STS-92 in 2000, and STS-113 in 2002. He also commanded ISS Expedition 14 during a seven-month mission 2006–2007, using a Russian Soyuz spacecraft reach space. He is one of NASA’s all-time best spacewalkers, with 10 extravehicular activities in 67 hours and 40 minutes of EVA, your agency biography States. He retired from NASA in 2012, then joined Axiom Space in 2017 before commanding Ax-1 in 2022.

“The Ax-3 mission will be transformative as it fosters partnerships beyond the ISS facility and positions European nations as pioneers of the emerging commercial space industry,” López-Alegría said in the Axiom statement. Also López-Alegría reposted Axiom’s announcement on Tuesday X.

Villadei has been training for space since at least 2008, second his Axiom biography, when it was assigned to Russia for the needs of the Italian Air Force. He was qualified to fly the Soyuz, but he never made a spaceflight in that vehicle. He served as a backup for the Ax-2 mission, flown earlier this year, and was selected in 2021 for a Virgin Galactic flight.

The June 29 Virgin Galactic spaceflight with Villadei saw him command the Italian Virtute-1 mission, including research for the Italian National Research Council. (Whether it was a space flight depends on who you talk to. Virgin flies under 62 miles or 100 kilometers Karman line defined by international authorities for the edge of space, but above the 50 mile or 80 km limit established by the United States Federal Aviation Administration to indicate where it says space begins.)

Related: Virgin Galactic Conducts First-Ever Commercial Launch of a Suborbital Spaceplane (Video)

SpaceX's Crew Dragon Freedom spacecraft is docked at the International Space Station with a black space behind it.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Freedom spacecraft is docked at the International Space Station with a black space behind it.

The Ax-3 mission will take place during the centenary year of the Turkish Republic, founded in October 1923, Gezeravci wrote on X (translation provided by Google.) The mission, he added, “will carry the dreams of our young generations, the guarantee of our future, into the depths of space.”

Wandt is a project or reserve astronaut, which is a new ESA category established during its latest astronaut selection which concluded in 2022. The reserve list includes astronaut candidates who have passed the selection, but who are not recruited by ESA until a flight opportunity arises. Meanwhile, reserve astronauts remain with their current employer until called for flight. Wandt was named for Ax-3 in June.

“Space has become more real today,” Wandt wrote on X of the announcement on Tuesday. “We are ready.”

Wandt’s mission for ESA will be called Munnin, a name from Norse mythology. Munnin and his companion Huginn are ravens accomplices of the god Odin and symbolize the human mind, ESA officials wrote. (Huginn is the mission name of ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen, currently serving with SpaceX Crew-7 on the ISS.)

Related: The new European astronaut class includes 2 women and a Paralympic trauma surgeon

four people in white spacesuits stand near a launch pad.

four people in white spacesuits stand near a launch pad.

Gezeravcı was named an astronaut candidate in May, during an event where Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised that Gezeravcı would fly by the end of 2023, according to the Associated Press. Gezeravcı, a 21-year veteran of the Turkish Air Force, also has a backup: Tuva aircraft systems engineer Cihangir Atasever. Turkish media wrote that the two were selected from 36,000 applications be astronauts.

Axiom received a mission order from NASA in March to take Ax-3 to the ISS, which was then manifested no earlier than November 2023. Axiom did not name the crew members at the time, but a NASA version said Axiom will submit four proposed crew members and two reinforcements to the ISS Multilateral Crew Operations Panel, an international coalition of ISS members that approves crew assignments to the orbiting complex.

The Ax-3 crew will spend the next few months in training for a 14-day mission, “to familiarize private astronauts with systems, procedures and emergency preparedness for the space station and Dragon spacecraft.” , NASA officials said. Training was scheduled to begin no earlier than spring 2023.

Axiom is authorized to fly missions to the ISS under a Space Act reimbursable agreement with NASA. Axiom is required to pay NASA “for services necessary to enable the mission,” the agency statement said. Examples include the use of training and launch facilities at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston and at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. (SpaceX also has a Space Act reimbursable agreement with KSC for launch services.)

Axiom’s mission-specific order for Ax-3 specifies that it will pay NASA for services “such as crew supplies, cargo delivery into space, storage and other resources in orbit for daily use,” the statement said. agency. The order allows, if necessary, an extra week of stay on the ISS.

Additionally, NASA may ask Axiom to bring back scientific samples Earth in Dragon – which allows for cold storage of biomedical samples – or request that López-Alegría “complete NASA science or perform tasks for NASA,” agency officials said.

Related: Private Space Station: How Axiom Space plans to build its orbital outpost

Artist's illustration of the space station that the Houston-based company Axiom Space plans to build in Earth orbit.

Artist’s illustration of the space station that the Houston-based company Axiom Space plans to build in Earth orbit.

Axiom itself receives revenue from customers who pay for seats and science, but company officials told reporters in January that national governments would be primary customers for future future missions, according to SpaceNews.

The costs paid by ESA, Italy and Turkey for the Ax-3 were not disclosed, but the Ax-1 seats purchased by three customers (apart from López-Alegría’s one as an Axiom employee) would have been invoiced at $55 million each; or approximately 51 million euros each at today’s exchange rate.


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NASA is gradually opening the space station to commercial vendors like Axiom through its LEO Commercial Development Program, which aims to bring greater commercial participation to the space station. The ISS already hosts dozens of commercial experiments, and now the agency is approving commercial astronauts to perform those experiments. Ax-3 and a successor mission, Ax-4, were approved by NASA following a September 2022 agency agreement announcement of research opportunities.

Axiom’s goals for the ISS include adding at least four modules to the orbiting complex; won a contract with NASA to build the first commercially produced model in 2020, and will fly that structure in 2026 or so. Axiom will then gradually introduce more modules to expand search and other facilities. When the ISS retires, which is expected in 2030, Axiom will fly its modules as an independent, integrated space station.

Axiom isn’t the only company with NASA’s support in creating new space stations. The agency aims to move its research into privately run facilities low earth orbit after the ISS. NASA awarded 415 million dollars in initial contracts in 2021 to coalitions led by Blue Origin, Nanoracks and Northrop Grumman. NASA officials have stressed in recent months that the agency is doing its best minimize or eliminate any gaps between the retirement of the ISS and the start of the new space stations.

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