On Sunday evening, the Crew Dragon spacecraft Endeavor undocked from the International Space Station, paving the way for four private astronauts to return to Earth.
After gradually receding from the orbiting laboratory, Endeavor is now poised to perform a de-orbit burn on Monday, nudging it into the Earth’s atmosphere. At 1:06 p.m. ET (17:06 UTC), the spacecraft will splash down off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, after a brief, violent journey through the atmosphere.
When Ax-1 mission Commander Michael López-Alegra, Pilot Larry Connor, and Mission Specialists Eytan Stibbe and Mark Pathy return to Earth, they will have spent 17 days in orbit since their launch on April 8. The crew was supposed to spend eight days docked to the space station, but inclement weather in Dragon’s landing zones around Florida forced the mission to be prolonged by a week.
Axiom Space fought for the option to send this crewed trip to the space station and wants to send other “private astronaut flights” in the future as space becomes available on the station’s congested schedule. Axiom reimburses NASA for visiting astronauts’ usage of food, water, air, and other resources. However, as part of the company’s contract with NASA, Axiom is not liable for any additional resources used during longer visits.
While Endeavor was docked to the space station, NASA, SpaceX, and Axiom performed collaborative activities. However, approximately 30 minutes after undocking, the space agency announced that its participation in the project would come to an end, leaving SpaceX and Axiom to handle all landing and recovery procedures.
The private astronauts each paid $ 55 million for their trip to and stay at the space station. While a few private astronauts have visited the space station over the previous two decades, those trips were piloted by the Russian government, with active cosmonauts in charge.
Axiom intends to launch up to two commercial flights each year as a preliminary to developing its own module to dock with the International Space Station in 2024. The corporation is at the forefront of US companies attempting to establish economic prospects in low Earth orbit. Early demand for the Axiom flights indicates a lot of interest in private human activities in low Earth orbit — from tourism to sports to manufacturing — but doubts remain about the long-term feasibility of such programs in the absence of considerable NASA financing.
One thing appears to be certain: private orbital spaceflight will be extremely different. Prior to the launch of the Ax-1 mission, the corporation and the private astronauts said that the mission’s primary goal was to perform scientific research. However, Axiom Space announced the construction of a non-fungible token marketplace to trade digital products within approximately an hour of its introduction.
NASA, for one, is eager to return the Axiom crew to Earth since the four professional astronauts travelling on the Crew-4 mission are in Florida, preparing to launch. Three NASA astronauts and one Italian crew member are set to embark aboard a new Crew Dragon crew capsule, Freedom, as early as Wednesday.