SpaceX Axiom Ax-2 docks with the space station and carries Saudi astronauts

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, named Freedom, docked with the International Space Station on May 22, 2023.


SpaceX on Monday morning brought another quartet of astronauts to the International Space Station on a private flight that also included government astronauts from Saudi Arabia, while the Arab kingdom is using US companies to expand its space ambitions.

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

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

Agency Anadolu | Agency Anadolu | Getty Images

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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 director of human spaceflight at Axiom.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia bought the last two seats of the Axiom mission, with Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali al-Qarni flying as mission specialists. Barnawi is the first Saudi woman to go into space.

The mission will include an extensive series of research and technology experiments with over 20 different scientific investigations.

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For SpaceX, the Ax-2 mission is the company’s tenth manned spaceflight. Since the first astronaut launch in May 2020, the company has flown seven government-booked crewed missions and three private flights.

The mission marked the first time SpaceX has returned a Falcon 9 launch vehicle after a crew launch to land back near the launch site rather than on a ship at sea. The company continues to expand the technical capabilities of its fleet.

This was also the second launch of 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 on the Ax-2 mission. NASA has previously revealed that launching a SpaceX crew costs about $55 million per seat, so the price tag for these private missions is expected to be high. Axiom has booked four crewed flights from SpaceX to date.

Though SpaceX provides the rocket and capsule, Axiom directs management of the mission from training to return to Earth.

How SpaceX defeated Boeing in the race to launch NASA astronauts into space SpaceX Axiom Ax-2 docks with the space station and carries Saudi astronauts

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