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SpaceX launching Axiom's private mission to the ISS on Sunday

Ax-2 will have a female commander and three paying astronauts

L-R: Ali AlQuarni, Cdr. Peggy Whitson; John Shoffner; and Rayyanah Barnawi

The Falcon 9 v1.2 FT BL5 rocket B1080.1 will launch the Crew Dragon C212.2 Freedom spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The rocket will launch on May 21, 2023 at 5:37 pm EDT (9:37 pm GMT). Today, Friday, May 19, the unfueled general rehearsal of the rocket and spacecraft will took place on platform 39A of the American spaceport.

Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2) will be the first commercial manned space mission to include private astronauts and foreign government representatives, as well as the first privately-owned mission commanded by a woman. Once docked, the astronauts will spend their time aboard the orbiting laboratory implementing a complete mission comprising scientific research, media outreach and commercial activities. The recovery vessel Megan departed Port Canaveral and is heading to the Gulf of Mexico to act as a rescue boat.

Falcon 9 v1.2 FT BL5 rocket #B1080.1 static fire on LC-39A at Cape Canaveral

This flight should give Axiom experience for its teams working with NASA and SpaceX, and also for its first commercial space station. Peggy Whitson's three passengers are paying for the eight-day flight. Two Saudi astronauts will be on board, including the country's first woman to fly into space, and the experienced American aviator will serve as pilot. The mission paves the way for Axiom's plan to dock a module from its private space station to the ISS by 2025.

This will be Axiom Space's second fully private manned mission to the International Space Station, marking another key step towards Axiom Station , the world's first commercial space station and marketed as the "successor" to the ISS. The crew will work and live on the orbital station to implement Axiom's complete manifesto of science research, outreach and customer experiments.

Launch Infographics

The crew

Axiom Space's Director of Human Spaceflight Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut and ISS Commander, will lead the mission. Airman John Shoffner of Knoxville, Tennessee, will serve as pilot. The two experts on the mission are Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).

Peggy Whitson

Commander Peggy Whitson

Whitson will become the first female commander of a private space mission, building on her previous accomplishments as NASA's Chief Astronaut and the first female commander of the ISS. Additionally, she will add to her standing record the longest cumulative time in space by any astronaut in the history of the US space program. “I am honored to return to the ISS for the fourth time, leading this talented Ax-2 team on its first mission,” said Whitson. “This is a strong, cohesive team determined to conduct meaningful scientific research in space and inspire a new generation about the benefits of microgravity. It is a testament to the power of science and discovery to unify and build international collaboration.”

John Shoffner

Pilot John Shoffner

Shoffner, a pioneering entrepreneur, aviator, and STEM advocate, has always been interested in space and aviation. He formed a young astronaut club with his friends as a child while following the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions and is an advocate for science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) education. He continued to fly, becoming a pilot at age 17 and has since accumulated over 8,500 flight hours while maintaining qualifications for various types of aircraft. He is an athlete in a variety of sports and founded his own motor racing team, J2-Racing. “I am excited about the opportunity to fly aboard the Ax-2 with this talented crew, illustrating the importance of access to space for everyone,” said Shoffner. “It will be a pleasure to share this experience with students and educators from around the world,

Mission Specialists Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) signed an agreement with Axiom in September 2022 to take two astronauts from the Saudi Space Commission as experts on the Ax-2. Astronauts AlQarni and Barnawi will be the first Saudi astronauts to visit the ISS. This mission represents a gateway to human spaceflight for Arabia and will make KSA the first nation not part of the official International Space Station partnership to have two astronauts aboard the ISS at the same time. Saudi Arabia will become the sixth nation to have two national astronauts working simultaneously aboard the station. In the official statement shared by the Saudi Kingdom announcing the two astronauts, it was stated:Kingdom Vision 2030. ”

work plan on board ISS

According to Axiom, the crew must conduct scientific research, biomanufacturing and technology demonstrations in orbit. Data collected during the flight will affect understanding of human physiology on Earth and in orbit, as well as establish the usefulness of new technologies that can be used for future human spaceflight missions and humanity on Earth. In total, the crew plans to conduct about twenty investigations, including an assembly of DNA-based nanomaterials for use in cartilage repair; effects of microgravity on mRNA decay; photograph lightning and high-altitude transient light events (TLEs) known as 'sprites' from the dome windows; and several educational collaborations to conduct STEM-focused activities with school-aged children around the world.

Gravity Load Countermeasure 'Skinsuit': The Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a suit to simulate gravity and help counteract the negative effects of microgravity on astronauts. The suit is intended to complement rigorous exercise regimens needed to mitigate issues such as spinal elongation, muscle atrophy, and sensorimotor changes during long-duration space missions.

Axiom Space Communication Systems: Technology demonstration that will explore alternative methods of communication for astronauts aboard the ISS. The new system aims to improve communication between crew and mission control, as well as other contacts on Earth, providing more communication flexibility and broader connectivity.

Multipurpose Shielding Polymer: Using a specialized internal radiation environment aboard the ISS, the crew will evaluate the shielding capabilities of a new hydrogen-rich polymer. The polymer was developed in collaboration with the Cosmic Shielding Corporation and designed to protect astronauts from radiation in space.

Cloud Seeding in Microgravity: This project is part of a partnership with the King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals, the Saudi Space Commission and Nanoracks. The cloud seeding process involves injecting different particles, such as silver iodide crystals, into clouds to create rain. The practice has been used by many drought-stricken countries in efforts to increase rainfall in those areas. Using a moist air reaction chamber in the absence of real clouds aboard the space station, astronauts will observe the condensation of water vapor onto crystals of silver iodide. The findings could have implications for technologies for controlling Earth's climate and creating artificial rain in future off-planet habitats.

Essential TRISH measurements: The Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) gave the Ax-2 crew a set of tests to perform on themselves to investigate how commercial spaceflight crews, who lack the extensive training performed by NASA astronauts , adapt to microgravity. These tests include physical assessments, questionnaires, biological sampling (blood and urine), and suits to monitor microgravity adaptation speed, cognitive performance, and physiological changes during spaceflight. The hope is to develop countermeasures to the negative effects of microgravity in order to reduce recovery times for short-term crews like the kind Axiom sends to the space station.

Cancer in Low Earth Orbit: This project continues an Ax-1 mission tumor organoid modeling investigation, in collaboration with the Sanford Stem Cell Institute, and aims to improve the detection and treatment of precancerous and cancerous cells. Developing stem cell models in space could help prevent cancer and other diseases. The study will expand on previous tumor organoid research by adding triple-negative breast cancer cells to the analysis and will focus on understanding immune dysfunction and drug challenges related to the spread of cancers and immunodeficiencies.

Spaceship Dragon Freedom


The European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) offered specialized training programs to prepare crew to operate in the ISS's multinational modules. This training was instrumental in ensuring that Axiom crews were ready to work efficiently on their respective modules and complete all assigned tasks.

ESA's astronaut training center in Cologne, Germany, offered courses covering topics such as robotics, emergency training and space science. Working in collaboration with the ESA team and support from the Aerospace Logistics Technology Engineering Company (ALTEC), the crew received additional training on the Columbus module, Europe's contribution to the ISS, a multipurpose laboratory for multidisciplinary research under microgravity conditions.

Training at JAXA headquarters in Tsukuba, Japan, the crew worked with Japan Manned Space Systems Corporation (JAMSS) support staff on the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM), the Kibo. Training included technical skills related to space research and in-depth knowledge of JEM module capabilities such as the JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD), a mechanism for ejecting small satellites.

Launch Sequence


00:45:00 SpaceX Launch Director verifies go for propellant load

00:42:00 Crew access arm retracts

00:39:00 Dragon's launch escape system is armed

00:35:00 RP-1 (rocket grade kerosene) loading begins

00:35:00 1st stage LOX (liquid oxygen) loading begins

00:16:00 2nd stage LOX loading begins

00:07:00 Falcon 9 begins engine chill prior to launch

00:05:00 Dragon transitions to internal power

00:01:00 Command flight computer to begin final prelaunch checks

00:01:00 Propellant tank pressurization to flight pressure begins

00:00:45 SpaceX Launch Director verifies go for launch

00:00:03 Engine controller commands engine ignition sequence to start

00:00:00 Falcon 9 liftoff

00:01:02 Max Q (moment of peak mechanical stress on the rocket)

00:02:26 1st stage main engine cutoff (MECO)

00:02:29 1st and 2nd stages separate

00:02:37 2nd stage engine starts

00:02:39 Boostback Burn Start

00:03:28 Boostback Burn End

00:06:25 1st stage entry burn

00:07:31 1st stage landing burn

00:07:58 1st stage landing

00:08:47 2nd stage engine cutoff (SECO-1)

00:11:58 Dragon separates from 2nd stage

00:12:46 Dragon nosecone open sequence begins

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