Axiom-3 lifting off from LC-39A atop of a Falcon 9. ©SpaceX

SpaceX launches Axiom's third trip to the International Space Station

Axiom Space has begun its Axiom-3 mission bound for the International Space Station on the 18th of January at 21:49 pm Coordinated Universal Time. The mission was launched from Launch Complex 39A, at Cape Canaveral in Florida, with SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Crew Dragon spacecraft.

This is the third time Axiom Space has flown a crew to the International Space Station to perform science during a short stay onboard. The crew of Axiom-3 is currently expected to spend at least eight days onboard the space station.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft, carrying the four crew members, is expected to dock with the International Space Station on the 20th of January at 10:15 am Coordinated Universal Time.

Falcon 9 booster B1080 landing at Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral. ©SpaceX
Falcon 9 booster B1080 landing at Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral. ©SpaceX

This was SpaceX's sixth launch of the year so far and the twelfth time it has flown a crewed mission overall. The booster for this mission was B1080 making its fifth flight before it landed back at Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral, in Florida.

Who's onboard Axiom-3?

The Axiom-3 crew (from left to right); Michael López-Alegría, Walter Villadei, Alper Gezeravcı, and Marcus Wandt. ©Axiom Space
The Axiom-3 crew (from left to right); Michael López-Alegría, Walter Villadei, Alper Gezeravcı, and Marcus Wandt. ©Axiom Space

Michael López-Alegría, from the United States, is the Commander of the Axiom-3 mission for his sixth trip to space. He has previously flown on the following missions: STS-73, STS-92, and STS- 113, and Soyuz TMA-9.

Walter Villadei, from Italy, is the Pilot of the Axiom-3 mission for his second trip to space. He has previously flown to space on the Galactic 01 mission with Virgin Galactic.

Alper Gezeravcı, from Türkiye, is one of the Mission Specialists of the Axiom-3 mission for his first trip to space. He is also currently serving as a fighter pilot with the Turkish Air Force having flown the following aircraft: T-41, SF-260, T-37, T-38, F-5, KC-135, and F-16.

Marcus Wandt, from Sweden, is the second Mission Specialist of the Axiom-3 mission also for his first trip to space. He has been an astronaut with the European Space Agency since November of 2022.

The Axiom-3 mission patch. ©Axiom Space
The Axiom-3 mission patch. ©Axiom Space

What's onboard Axiom-3?

Disclaimer: The experiment descriptions are as described in one of Axiom Space's pre-launch press releases before its third mission to the International Space Station.

Axiom-3 is also carrying over a dozen experiments onboard during its trip to space. Here are some of the more interesting experiments:

ARISS: Amateur Radio on the International Space Station is a global volunteer organization running an educational program to inspire interest in STEAM careers by providing an opportunity to talk to astronauts on the ISS via amateur radio.

Virtual Reality-On-Board Training: The ESA-sponsored Virtual Reality-On-Board Training project aims to perform training activities on the ISS via a virtual reality Head Mounted Display, which enables visualization and interaction with complex 3D models. This technology demonstration will evaluate the compatibility of VR equipment with the ISS environment, test how well real-time space-to-ground collaboration can occur, and compare the efficiency of training delivery via VR relative to standard training methods.

Brain-DTI: When humans enter microgravity many changes to their body take place, such as to the brain and central nervous system which has to adapt to altered sensory information arriving from the eyes, ears, and muscles. This ongoing ESA-sponsored project aims to identify biomarkers for this adaptation via use of advanced MRI brain imaging methods such as Diffusion Tensor Imaging and resting state functional MRI. Identification of neural biomarkers related to sensorimotor adaptation after spaceflight could also lead to improved interventions for humans on Earth, for example after injury or stroke.

Crew Interactive MObile CompanioN: This project is developing and testing an artificial intelligence powered free-flying companion, called CIMON, to support crew and help with mission efficiency during long-term missions. CIMON can fly freely through the ISS to support crew as they perform tasks and can respond to verbal commands. This technology development project is also looking at human machine interactions to build robots and other technologies that are intuitive and easy for humans to use and rely on. The work will help design technologies on Earth that will optimize performance for seamless integration into many sectors, such as manufacturing, aviation, and healthcare.

Uzman: Algae have many properties that make them ideal organisms to support humans during long-duration spaceflight missions. Not only could they serve as a nutritional source included in astronaut menus, algae could also remove carbon dioxide and produce oxygen for spacecraft environmental control systems, help regulate spacecraft temperatures, recycle certain wastes, and even act as a source of fuel. The data generated from this experiment will be used to advance the development of microalgal life support systems for space missions and could impact the design of future carbon dioxide capture, oxygen conversion, wastewater treatment systems, and provide fertilizer options for other agricultural crops grown in space.

Vokalkord: The Vokalkord experiment will focus on developing an artificial intelligence system to detect over 70 types of disease by analyzing respiratory, speaking, and cough sounds. This project further develops the software for use on Earth as a tool to identify and diagnose lung cancers, voice and vocal cord diseases, infectious diseases, and even cardiovascular and eye disease.

NUT: NUT is a project from the Italian Space Agency aiming to shed light on the physiological adaptation mechanisms that human organisms put in place to cope with environmental conditions in space. In particular, the project aims to study the expression profile of different molecular markers before and after a space mission by discriminating the effects induced by microgravity and cosmic rays from those caused by confinement, isolation, and psychophysical stress.

Light Ion Detector, For Anomalous Long-Term Effects on Astronauts: The LIDAL experiment from the Italian Space Agency monitors high-energy particles on the ISS, which has been functioning onboard the space station since 2020. The project aims to develop the first real-time radiation risk meter on the ISS to keep the crew informed on the risks from cosmic radiation and space weather events.

If you'd like to know all of the experiments onboard Axiom-3 you can read the rest here.

What is Crew Dragon?

Crew Dragon as seen during Crew-2.
Crew Dragon as seen during Crew-2.

Crew Dragon, or Dragon 2, is a partially reusable spacecraft developed by SpaceX. The primary use for Crew Dragon is to send crew to and from the International Space Station. SpaceX has also flown a free flight of the spacecraft for the Inspiration4 mission, and is planning another called Polaris Dawn.

Crew Dragon consists of the capsule and trunk. The trunk is used to store unpressurized cargo as well as have solar panels mounted on one side, to generate power, and radiators on the other, to dissipate heat generated inside. The trunk is not reused and burns up in the atmosphere after each mission. The capsule is where the crew will be during launch, landing, and while on their way to the International Space Station. Unlike the original Dragon capsule, the Crew Dragon capsule has a launch abort system consisting of eight SuperDraco engines. The capsule also has a nosecone that will fold out of the way in space to protect the docking hardware and forward-facing thrusters during launch and landing.

Crew Dragon was developed as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program in order to regain crew access to the International Space Station from the United States of America after the retirement of the Space Shuttle. SpaceX currently has four active Crew Dragon capsules; Endeavour, Resilience, Endurance, and Freedom. A fifth Crew Dragon capsule is under construction and is expected to be finished in 2024, this will be the last Crew Dragon capsule to be built. Each capsule is expected to be reused up to fifteen times.