The crew access arm is installed in the newly constructed Tower 40 at the Space Launch Complex at Cape Canaveral. Image: Adam Bernstein/Spaceflight Now. The crew access arm was lifted into place at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral on Monday as SpaceX prepares for the first Crew Dragon launch with astronauts in January.
Multiple sources tell SpaceFlight Now that Axiom Space’s third private astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS) is likely to be the new tower’s debut as Launch Complex-39A has a full schedule. The mission, led by former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, will send three European astronauts to the space station for up to 14 days.
Currently, SpaceX and the Russian agency Roscosmos are the only tickets to the ISS and are currently the only option in the United States until Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft begins rotation next year.
What’s more, SpaceX currently has only one launch pad from which it can launch astronauts and cargo shipments to the ISS: Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
in 2023 SpaceX has worked to change that by building a new crew and cargo access tower at its second Florida launch pad: Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) CCSFS.
If the tower isn’t ready in time for this mission, the Ax-3 could still launch from the LC-39A, as all other astronaut missions flown by SpaceX continue into the 2020s. But that would cause a lot more congestion already. packed schedule LC-39A.
The Ax-3 mission crew poses in front of the Falcon 9 booster that will launch them to the ISS in mid-January. From left to right they are Alper Gezeravcı, Marcus Wandt, Michael López-Alegría, Walter Villadei. Image: Axiom Space Packaged launch schedule
One of the main reasons Ax-3 could be the mission to debut SLC-40 tower capabilities is a pair of launches scheduled within days of each other that require the LC-39A’s currently unique capabilities.
No earlier 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 bound for the lunar south pole must be refueled on the launch pad using only the equipment available on 39A.
In an interview last month with Spaceflight Now, IM Lunar Access Vice President Trent Martin said they will also do a wetsuit rehearsal “a few days before launch.”
“We want to refuel as late as possible. “SpaceX has been very nice to provide us with a service that provides us with liquid oxygen and liquid methane,” Martin said in October. “They will be filled until the last minute so that we are as full as possible and have the best chance of successfully landing on the moon.”
The completed Nova-C lander for the IM-1 mission was photographed in mid-October at the Intuitive Machines facility in Houston, Texas, before being shipped to Cape Canaveral, Florida. Image: Intuitive Machines These launches from both sides are included in other high-priority missions.
It is planned that from November 9 Falcon 9 will launch the 29th SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-29) mission to the ISS, carrying thousands of pounds of cargo and scientific experiments to the ISS. A fifth and final one is expected to follow in 2023. Falcon Heavy: USSF-52’s national security mission.
Changing the launch pad from Falcon 9 to Falcon Heavy configuration takes about three weeks.
On the other side of Ax-3’s roughly two-week mission, the SpaceX Crew-8 quartet is expected to launch no earlier than mid-February. Commander and NASA astronaut Matthew Dominick will lead the mission along with pilot Michael Barratt, mission specialist Jeanette Epps and mission specialist Alexander Grebenkin.
Houston-based Axiom Space planned a third commercial flight to the space station from Plane 39A within days of IM-1’s launch, and NASA wants the flight to go on schedule to avoid disrupting the space station’s busy traffic schedule early on. in 2024 The IM-1 mission, which only has one short launch window per month, could face significant delays if it is knocked out of the January window.
Despite high winds in the Cape Canaveral area, a huge crane lifted the crew’s access arm into the air at 40 blocks. Image: Adam Bernstein/Spaceflight Now. The ability to launch Ax-3 from SLC-40 would allow SpaceX to meet all customer needs and accommodate more capabilities in less time. Of course, this depends on the crew and cargo access tower being ready in time.
The first segment of the crew access tower for SpaceX’s Unit 40 is being moved to the launch pad. Watch live: https://t.co/FVz8ZF6Z63 pic.twitter.com/phVD0D5tT0
— Spaceflight Now (@SpaceflightNow) March 2023 September 6
On Monday, construction workers began lifting the crew access arm into place using cranes and slings. It is one of the last major components to be installed, in addition to the emergency exit system, a zipper-like escape system that would allow astronauts and support personnel to quickly exit the tower if necessary.
The final section of the crew access tower is being moved from SpaceX’s Robert’s Road facility to Pad 40. In the background is the NASA Artemis launch pad tower at Complex 39B. Image: Spaceflight Now. Earlier press conferences with NASA and SpaceX officials said the tower should be completed by 2023.
Astronauts have priority
While Ax-3 is currently slated to use SLC-40 and IM-1 will use LC-39A, it all depends on tower readiness. If that doesn’t happen in time, though, sources tell Spaceflight Now that Ax-3 will be the first priority to launch from LC-39A in January, with the IM-1 mission delayed until later.
Even if the new tower doesn’t get cleared in time for Ax-3, followed by a growing number of requests to launch more to the ISS and commercial space stations, it will certainly be a valuable asset to SpaceX and its assets. of customers going to 2024 and later.