SpaceX is making significant progress in preparing for its first Crew Dragon launch with astronauts scheduled for January. The company is racing to ready Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral for this milestone event. Recently, a crew access arm was lifted into place at SLC-40, a crucial step in the launch preparation process.
The inaugural mission for the new tower at SLC-40 is expected to be Axiom Space’s third private astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Led by former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, this mission will send three European astronauts to the ISS for a duration of up to 14 days.
Currently, SpaceX and Russia’s Roscosmos are the only options for traveling to the ISS. However, next year, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is set to join the ranks. To accommodate the increasing demand for ISS visits, SpaceX is constructing a new crew and cargo access tower at SLC-40. This will help alleviate congestion at SpaceX’s Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, which is the company’s only launch pad for sending astronauts and cargo to the ISS.
The new tower at SLC-40 may be inaugurated with Axiom Space’s mission due to a packed schedule at LC-39A. In January, a Falcon 9 rocket will be launching the first Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) mission from LC-39A, requiring equipment only available at that site. This launch is surrounded by other high-priority missions, such as the 29th SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-29) mission to the ISS and the USSF-52 national security mission.
As a result, Axiom Space wants to ensure that its IM-1 mission launches on schedule and doesn’t disrupt the space station traffic plan in early 2024. Launching Ax-3 from SLC-40 would enable SpaceX to meet all customer needs and accommodate more opportunities in a shorter timeframe. Construction crews are currently hoisting the crew access arm into place at SLC-40, which is one of the final major components needed for the tower. The crew and cargo access tower is expected to be completed by the end of 2023.
If the new tower is not ready in time, Ax-3 will have the first priority to launch from LC-39A in January, and the IM-1 mission will be delayed to a later date. Nevertheless, the new tower will be a valuable asset for SpaceX and its customers heading into 2024 and beyond, allowing for smoother operations and increased launch opportunities.
“Zombie enthusiast. Subtly charming travel practitioner. Webaholic. Internet expert.”