SpaceX and NASA have delayed Crew Dragon’s fourth operational Commercial Crew launch for the fifth time as four private Axiom Space astronauts begin their fifth day aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
The two Crew Dragon missions have been scheduled just a few weeks apart for several months, which has inextricably linked their launch dates and created a degree of schedule pressure. After slipping repeatedly from an initial February 21st, 2022 target, SpaceX finally launched Axiom Space’s first private spaceflight (Ax-1) on April 8th. Less than a day later, Crew Dragon safely docked with the ISS, marking the first time privately-owned spacecraft and rocket has delivered a crew of exclusively private astronauts to the orbital outpost.
The four Ax-1 astronauts are scheduled to spend around eight days aboard the ISS and a total of ten days in orbit. Originally scheduled to launch around April 15th, SpaceX and NASA’s Crew-4 mission has already been delayed four times by a series of delays that pushed Axiom-1 from March 30th to April 8th. If Ax-1’s return to Earth is delayed any further by bad weather or technical problems, Crew-4 could slip even further past its latest target of April 23rd.
If all goes to plan, the Ax-1 astronauts will likely board Crew Dragon on April 17th, undock several hours later, and splash down in the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean on April 18th. Since boarding the ISS on April 9th, the Ax-1 crew have apparently been working almost nonstop aboard the station. In an April 13th Q&A with Houston-area students, two crew members implied that they really didn’t have any free time outside of meals and sleep – possibly less free time than the professional NASA, ESA, and Roscosmos astronauts who operate the station if true. Each Axiom-1 crew member is paying around $55 million for their SpaceX launch and eight days aboard the ISS.
Outside of apparently nonexistent breaks, the Ax-1 crew are almost constantly performing or participating in a number of science and experiments and technology demonstrations – some brought or sponsored by Axiom Space itself and others already in place on the ISS. According to Axiom, the crew is supporting at least 25 different experiments involving things like “self-assembling technology for satellites and future space habitats, cancer stem cell study, and air purification” to help better understand “human physiology on Earth and in orbit [and] establish the utility of novel technologies that could be used for future human spaceflight pursuits and [by] humankind [back] on Earth.”
The specific experiments include testing a “photocatalyst air purification device,” uncovering new cancer biomarkers for early detection, a subscale demonstration of a modular space station assembly concept, and more.