WASHINGTON — A Crew Dragon landed from the International Space Station on April 24 carrying four private astronauts who spent nearly twice as much time on the station as originally planned.
The Crew Dragon spacecraft, Endeavor, landed from the station at 9:10 pm in the east. The undocking establishes a dive off the coast of Florida scheduled for 1:06 pm east on April 25. While SpaceX has several potential landing sites to choose from, NASA said the main site is in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Jacksonville.
“Thank you again for all the support through this incredible adventure we had, even longer and more exciting than we thought,” Michael López-Alegría, commander of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, told space station controllers as the spacecraft departed nearby. from the ISS shortly after undocking.
The undocking marks the final phase of Axiom Space’s Ax-1 mission, which began with an April 8 launch in a Falcon 9 from the Kennedy Space Center. The mission, the first private astronaut mission by a US spacecraft to the ISS, is led by López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut, with three clients: Larry Connor, Eytan Stibbe and Mark Pathy.
Endeavor docked with the ISS on April 9 for what was originally billed as an eight-day stay. However, the spacecraft spent more than 15 days at the station, its departure delayed mainly by bad weather at the crash sites. Neither NASA nor Axiom Space worked out specific weather criteria, such as winds or wave conditions, which prevented a splash, as well as “marginally strong winds” that delayed decoupling from April 23-24.
The extended stay did not materially affect the station’s operations. “NASA and Axiom’s mission planning is prepared for the possibility of additional time on the station for private astronauts, and there are sufficient provisions for all 11 crew aboard the space station,” the agency said in a blog post by NASA. April 20th.
However, it raised questions about whether it would cost Axiom and its private astronaut customers more money. “The agreement between NASA and Axiom allowed for the possibility of extra days,” Axiom spokesperson Dakota Orlando told SpaceNews April 24, but did not respond to questions about the details of that agreement.
NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz said on April 24 that the agreement included a “fair balance” to cover delays. “Knowing that International Space Station mission objectives, such as the recently conducted Russian spacewalk or weather challenges, could result in a delayed de-docking, NASA negotiated the contract with a strategy that does not require reimbursement for additional de-docking delays.” she said.
Additional time at the station was not wasted. The four private astronauts had a “very tight research program,” Orlando said, sometimes working 14-hour days. “With the delay, they continued to work on these research and outreach projects at a more leisurely pace, with additional time to enjoy the blue planet views.”
Ahead of the launch, Axiom executives emphasized the research they would do on the sightseeing tours the station would offer. “They’re not up there to put their nose in the window. They’re really going there to do meaningful research,” Michael Suffredini, president and chief executive officer of Axiom Space, said at a mission briefing in February.
The undocking was unaffected by an ISS maneuver on 23 April. The Progress MS-18 spacecraft attached to the Russian segment of the station fired its thrusters for 10 minutes and 23 seconds to increase the station’s orbit by about two kilometers. NASA advertised the maneuver as one that “optimizes phasing for future visiting vehicles arriving at the station,” but it was originally described as a maneuver to avoid a piece of debris designed to approach the station.
NASA spokesman Gary Jordan said that while flight controllers were tracking a potential conjunction, or approach, of debris from the station, “the conjunction turned green” or no longer posed a threat. “Flight control teams chose to proceed with a nominal boost,” he said.
The wreckage in question, Jordan said, was an object with a NORAD ID of 51157 and is one of more than 1,000 pieces of tracked debris created by Russia’s November 2021 anti-satellite weapons demonstration that destroyed an extinct Russian satellite, Cosmos 1408.