NASA, Axiom Space target May 21 for Ax-2 mission

Private mission will fly on SpaceX rocket to International Space Station

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – The next all-private crew mission for Axiom Space is expected next month.

Representatives of Axiom Space, NASA, SpaceX and the Saudi Space Commission held a news conference to preview the upcoming Ax-2 mission.

Crews are targeting no earlier than May 21 at 5:37 p.m. for a launch from Kennedy Space Center. Axiom will use a Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule to get to the International Space Station.

The launch was originally scheduled for May 8, but Axiom Space announced it would be delayed as crews continue to prepare for the mission to the ISS.

Axiom president and CEO Michael Suffredini said the mission takes lessons learned from the first Axiom flight, and the four-person crew will spend its time working on over 20 applied research experiments — everything from tumor organoids to help predict and prevent cancers, all the way to demonstrations that will help Axiom as it works toward its ultimate goal: building a new commercial space station for when the space station retires.

Axiom Space's Ax-2 Crew - (from left to right) Commander Peggy Whitson, Pilot John Shoffner, Mission Specialist Ali AlQarni and Mission Specialist Rayyanah Barnawi. (Axiom Space)

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“These are really steps for us in a process to get ready to build our space station,” Suffredini said.

Astronaut Peggy Whitson will serve as commander on the Ax-2 mission. Also on the mission are pilot John Shoffner and mission specialists Ali AlQarni and Rayyanah Barnawi of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Barnawi, a breast cancer researcher, will be the first Saudi woman to fly in space.

NASA said the private missions are important because they expand outreach to more people, and enable more of the public to be touched by space exploration and research.

“Our hope is to have operating commercial space stations by 2029,” said Angela Hart, commercial LEP development program manager for NASA.

That target date is important because the space station is expected to retire in the 2030s. NASA does not want to have a gap between the International Space Station and commercial space stations.

Axiom is hoping to fly its first module for its space station in 2025, and its second module in 2026. Those two modules, once in place, will be able to hold eight crew, with several docking ports.

“Space is really changing right now and I’m really excited to be part of this,” Whitson said.

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Christie joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021.