The first private astronaut mission will likely use SpaceX’s new crew access tower – Spaceflight Now

The crew access lever is rotated into place on the newly constructed tower at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral. Image: Adam Bernstein/Space Flight Now.

The crew access arm was lifted into place at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral on Monday, as SpaceX raced to prepare the platform for the first Crew Dragon launch with astronauts as soon as January.

Multiple sources told SpaceFlight Now that Axiom Space’s third private astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS) will likely mark the debut of the new tower, thanks to a busy schedule at Launch Complex-39A. The mission, led by former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez Alegría, will send three European astronauts on a journey to the space station for up to 14 days.

Right now, SpaceX and Russia’s Roscosmos are the only tickets to the ISS, which is currently the only option in the U.S. until the Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft enters orbit next year.

Not only that, but SpaceX currently has only one launch pad from which it can launch astronauts, as well as cargo missions, to the International Space Station: Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

Over the course of 2023, SpaceX is working to change that by building a new crew and cargo access tower at its second launch pad in Florida: Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at CCSFS.

If the tower is not ready in time to support this mission, the Ax-3 could still be launched from LC-39A as all other SpaceX-led astronaut missions date back to 2020. However, that would cause more Crowding on the Space Tower already. Busy schedule for the LC-39A.

The Ax-3 mission crew stands in front of the Falcon 9 rocket that will launch them to the International Space Station in mid-January. From left to right, they are Albert Gezeravci, Markus Wandt, Michael Lopez Alegría, Walter Velade. Image: Axiom Space

Busy release schedule

One of the main reasons why Ax-3 will be the mission that will debut the SLC-40’s turret capabilities is the pair of launches scheduled within days of each other that require the LC-39A’s currently unique capabilities.

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No later than January 12, a Falcon 9 rocket will be used to launch Intuitive Machines’ first Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) mission. The Nova C lander flying to the Moon’s south pole must be refueled at the launch pad using only equipment available at 39A.

in interview With Spaceflight Now last month, IM Vice President of Lunar Access Trent Martin said they would also conduct a wet rehearsal “several days before launch.”

“We want to refuel as late as possible. SpaceX has been very helpful, providing us with a service that will provide us with liquid oxygen and liquid methane,” Martin said in October. “It will fill up until the last minute, so we can be as full as possible.” “We have the greatest chance of successfully landing on the moon.”

The completed Nova-C lander for the IM-1 mission was photographed in mid-October at Intuitive Machines’ facilities in Houston, Texas, before being shipped to Cape Canaveral, Florida. Image: Intuitive Machines

These launches are placed on either side by other high-priority tasks.

Starting November 9, the Falcon 9 is scheduled to launch SpaceX’s 29th Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-29) mission to the International Space Station, which will deliver thousands of pounds of cargo and science experiments to the crew in orbit. This is expected to be followed by the fifth and final Falcon Heavy mission of 2023: the USSF-52 National Security Mission.

Converting the launch pad from a Falcon 9 to a Falcon Heavy takes about three weeks.

On the other side of the roughly two-week Ax-3 mission, the SpaceX Crew-8 quartet is expected to launch no later than mid-February. NASA Commander and Astronaut Matthew Dominick will lead the mission along with Pilot Michael Barratt, Mission Specialist Janet Epps, and Mission Specialist Alexander Grebenkin.

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Houston-based Axiom Space was planning to see its third commercial flight to the space station fly from pad 39A within a few days of IM-1’s launch, and NASA wants the flight to go on schedule to avoid disrupting the space station’s busy traffic plan early. . 2024. The IM-1 mission, which has only one short launch window per month, could face long delays if it is pushed out of the January window.

Despite high winds at Cape Canaveral, a massive crane lifted the crew access boom into the air at Pad 40. Photo: Adam Bernstein/Spaceflight Now.

Having the option to launch Ax-3 from SLC-40 will allow SpaceX to meet all of its customers’ needs and accommodate more opportunities in a smaller time frame. This of course depends on the readiness of the crew and the tower and the timely arrival of the cargo.

On Monday, construction crews began hoisting the crew’s access boom into place using a series of jacks and straps. This is one of the last major components to be put in place, along with the emergency egress system, a zip-line-like escape system that allows astronauts and support personnel to quickly exit the tower, if necessary.

The final section of the crew access tower is transported from SpaceX’s Rupert Road facility to Pad 40. In the background is NASA’s Artemis launch pad tower in Complex 39B. Image: Spaceflight Now.

In previous press conferences with NASA and SpaceX officials, he said the tower should be completed by the end of 2023.

Astronauts get priority

While the plan now is for the Ax-3 to use the SLC-40 and the IM-1 to use the LC-39A, it all depends on the readiness of the turret. If that doesn’t come to fruition in time, sources told Spaceflight Now that Ax-3 will have first priority for launch from LC-39A in January and the IM-1 mission will be postponed to a later date.

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Even if the new tower doesn’t get clearance to be used to support the Ax-3 in time for this mission, with requests mounting to launch more to the International Space Station and commercial space stations afterward, it will certainly be a valuable asset to SpaceX and its partners. Customers are moving into 2024 and beyond.

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