The second-ever private astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS) will launch just over a month from now, if all goes according to plan.
Houston-based company Axiom Space announced today (April 6) that it's targeting May 8 for the launch of its Ax-2 mission, which will send four people to the orbiting lab aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule named Freedom.
Liftoff is scheduled to occur at 10:43 p.m. EDT on May 8 (0243 GMT on May 9) atop a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It will be the first space mission for this Falcon 9's first stage and the second for Freedom, which first flew SpaceX's Crew-4 astronaut mission to the ISS for NASA.
Freedom and its four passengers will arrive at the ISS about 37 hours after launch, at 11:40 a.m. EDT (1540 GMT) on May 10.
"This crew will be docked to the International Space Station 10 days," Joel Montalbano, NASA's ISS program manager, said during an Ax-2 press conference today. "They'll do a little over 20 research experiments that will result in about 130 hours of national lab science."
Related: Photos of the Ax-1 mission to the International Space Station
Ax-2 will launch 13 months after Ax-1, which sent an all-private astronaut crew to the ISS for the first time ever. Like Ax-1, Ax-2 will be commanded by a former NASA astronaut in the employ of Axiom Space — Peggy Whitson, who has spent a total of 665 days in space, more than any other American. (Ax-1 was led by Michael López-Alegría, who racked up four spaceflights during his NASA career.)
The coming mission will build off its predecessor, which was supposed to stay at the ISS for 10 days but remained docked for six additional days due to persistent bad weather over its splashdown zone.
"We have about 200 lessons learned that we went through," Axiom Space President and CEO Mike Suffredini said during today's press conference. "This is a process — you do a number of these flights, you figure out what you can do better next time and then you make the changes and go do the flight."
Ax-2 will make some history of its own. Two of its crewmates are Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali AlQarni, members of the first Saudi Arabian astronaut class. Barnawi will become the first Saudi woman ever to reach space, and she and AlQarni will be the first people from the kingdom to travel to the ISS.
The fourth Ax-2 crewmember is investor John Shoffner, a paying customer who will serve as Ax-2's pilot. (Barnawi and Ali AlQarni will be mission specialists.)
"I actually feel very blessed that I have such an extremely talented crew that has not only met but surpassed the training requirements for this mission," Whitson said during today's press conference.
"We've trained at NASA [and] SpaceX; we've also trained at the European Space Agency and the Japanese space agency," Whitson said. The team has done centrifuge training, she added, "zero G flights, outdoor and confined-environment training for team building," she added. "So I really feel that that has prepared us very well."
Axiom Space's long-term vision encompasses more than flying private astronaut missions to and from the ISS. The company plans to start launching modules to the ISS in 2025, building up a private outpost that will detach and fly freely by the end of this decade.
Axiom wants this commercial station to be up and running before the ISS retires in 2030.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.