Mission Ax-3 accomplished: the SpaceX Crew Dragon Freedom spacecraft has come back to Earth

The Crew Dragon Freedom spacecraft after the splashdown that ended its Ax-3 mission (Image courtesy Axiom Space)
The Crew Dragon Freedom spacecraft after the splashdown that ended its Ax-3 mission (Image courtesy Axiom Space)

A little while ago, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Freedom spacecraft concluded its Ax-3 mission by splashing down without problems. On board were Michael López-Alegría, Walter Villadei, Alper Gezeravcı, and Marcus Wandt, who ended this completely private space mission in the Atlantic Ocean after leaving the International Space Station almost 48 hours earlier. Shortly after splashing down, SpaceX’s recovery ship went to retrieve the Freedom and its crew to transport them to the coast.

Launched on January 18 and arrived at the International Space Station on January 20, it’s a private mission set up in a collaboration between SpaceX and Axiom Space and for this reason, called Axiom Mission 3 or simply Ax-3. It was the third that had as its purpose the use of the Station to conduct experiments and also for commercial purposes. On board the Freedom there were approximately 250 kilograms (550 pounds) of experiments and various hardware. Colonel Walter Villadei also cooked some pasta in collaboration with Italian pasta maker Barilla. Beyond the company’s interest, the goal is to expand food choices for the International Space Station’s crew and in the future for the crews of commercial stations that may be open to tourism and deep space missions.

NASA is collaborating with Axiom Space and SpaceX on these missions as part of a program of progressive opening to private companies taking on increasingly important roles in space missions. However, the Ax-3 mission had a European mark, in the sense that the crew was made up of people with European citizenship. For this reason, ESA also participated in this mission.

Axiom Space’s long-term plans include launching company-made modules to add to the International Space Station to eventually create a commercial space station starting in 2026. In the meantime, it’s working with various space agencies and other companies to use the International Space Station to carry out experiments in orbit. The Ax-3 mission lasted a few days longer than the scheduled two weeks because there was bad weather in the splashdown area off the coast of Florida that lasted a few days.

Axiom Space programs are “fluid” as they depend on many factors. The next mission, referred to as Axiom Mission 4 or Ax-4, is scheduled to be conducted no earlier than October 2024 but it’s easy for the date to slip even by months given that it’s necessary to coordinate the work of different entities in various countries. In the next months, the Crew Dragon spacecraft will be used for other missions for NASA e in private collaborations with other companies.

For now, the Freedom’s crew members will undergo medical tests like all astronauts. The various experiments brought back to Earth will be turned over to the agencies and companies that created them to analyze the results.

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