SpaceX delivers private Axiom crew to the space station, carrying Saudi astronauts

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SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule “Freedom” is seen docked with the International Space Station on May 22, 2023.


SpaceX delivered another quartet of astronauts to the International Space Station on Monday morning, on a private flight that included government astronauts from Saudi Arabia as the Arab kingdom leverages U.S. companies to expands its ambitions in space. 

Axiom Space booked the roughly week-long trip, known as the Ax-2 mission, to the ISS with Elon Musk’s company. SpaceX launched the four people on Sunday evening from Florida. Its Falcon 9 rocket launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, and the company’s Crew Dragon capsule “Freedom” reaching the ISS about 16 hours later.

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA, UNITED STATES – MAY 21: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon spacecraft lifts off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center for the Axiom Space Mission 2 (Ax-2) on May 21, 2023 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The four-person private astronaut Ax-2 crew, which will spend eight days on the International Space Station, includes former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, pilot John Shoffner, and Saudi Space Commission astronauts Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi, the first Saudi woman to fly to space. (Photo by Paul Hennesy/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Ax-2 is commanded by retired NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson – who has spent more time in space than any other American or woman – and piloted by businessman and auto racer John Shoffner, who purchased a seat on the flight through Axiom. Whitson is also Axiom’s director of human spaceflight.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia bought the final two seats on Axiom’s mission, with Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali al-Qarni flying as mission specialists. Barnawi is the first Saudi woman to fly in space.

The mission will feature a busy slate of research and technology experiments, with over 20 different science investigations.

For SpaceX, the Ax-2 mission is the company’s 10th human spaceflight. The company has flown seven government-booked crew missions and three private flights since launching astronauts for the first time in May 2020.

The mission featured the first time SpaceX returned a Falcon 9 booster to land back near the launch site, rather than on a ship in the ocean, after a crew launch. The company continues to expand the technical capabilities of its fleet.

This was also the second launch for the company’s reusable “Freedom” capsule, which previously carried NASA’s Crew-4 mission on a six-month mission to and from the ISS.

Axiom and SpaceX have not disclosed financial details about the Ax-2 mission. NASA has previously disclosed that a SpaceX crew launch costs about $55 million per seat, so the price for these private missions is expected to be high. Axiom has booked four crewed flights from SpaceX to date.

Although SpaceX is providing the rocket and capsule, Axiom is leading the mission’s management from training to the return to Earth.

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