Freedom capsule undocks from ISS with AX-3 commercial crew

SpaceX’s Freedom capsule today undocked from ISS at 9:20 am (Eastern), carrying three European passengers and one commander, with a planned splashdown in the Atlantic off the coast of Florida at 8:30 am (Eastern) on February 9, 2024.

Ax-3 astronauts Michael López-Alegría, Walter Villadei, Marcus Wandt, and Alper Gezeravci will complete 18 days aboard the orbiting laboratory at the conclusion of their mission. The SpaceX Dragon will return to Earth with more than 550 pounds of science and supplies, including NASA experiments and hardware.

Live stream for that splashdown can be found here. The mission is a private one. Axiom sold the tickets, and purchased from SpaceX the Falcon 9 launch and use of its Freedom capsule. It also rented time on ISS from NASA for its crew and passengers.

Weather stops everything by SpaceX in the last 24 hours

SpaceX found itself stymied in the past 24 hours due to poor weather conditions on both coasts, with two launches and the return of a Dragon capsule from space all scrubbed.

First a Falcon 9 launch from Vandenberg of 22 Starlink satellites was scrubbed, the launch pushed back from yesterday to tonight at 5.39 pm (Pacific).

Then a launch of a NASA climate satellite on a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral was scrubbed shortly thereafter, the launch rescheduled for 1:33 am (Eastern) tonight.

Finally, the return of Axiom’s Ax-3 commercial passenger flight to ISS was scrubbed today because of poor weather conditions.

NASA, Axiom Space, and SpaceX are standing down from the Tuesday, Feb. 6, undocking opportunity of Axiom Mission 3 from the International Space Station. Mission teams will continue to review weather conditions off the coast of Florida, which currently are not favorable for return, and set a new target opportunity for space station departure and splashdown of the Dragon spacecraft and Axiom crew members.

The undocking is now tentatively set for tomorrow morning, but this remains unconfirmed. The three passengers and the Axiom commander have so far spent 18 days in orbit. The original plan was for a 14 day mission, most of which to be spent on ISS, but weather can always extend such plans.

The launch scrubs illustrate the challenge SpaceX faces in reaching its stated goal of 150 launches in 2024. It appears the company is now capable of technically meeting that goal. To do it however it needs to launch almost every other day, and weather simply might not allow a pace like this during some parts of the year in both Florida and California. Whether the company can make-up for these delays with multiple daily launches at other times remains unknown. If it does, it will be another feather in the cap for SpaceX.