SpaceX is making significant progress in preparing for its first Crew Dragon launch with astronauts from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral. On Monday, the company installed a crew access arm at SLC-40, a crucial milestone in the construction of a new crew and cargo access tower.
This development is good news for Axiom Space, as their upcoming third private astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS) is likely to be the inaugural mission for the new tower. Commanded by Michael López-Alegría, the mission faces a packed schedule at Launch Complex-39A, making it difficult to accommodate the launch there.
At present, SpaceX and Russia’s Roscosmos serve as the only options for reaching the ISS, but Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is set to join next year. However, LC-39A is the only launch pad currently available for SpaceX’s crew and cargo missions to the ISS. Consequently, if the tower at SLC-40 is not ready in time for Axiom Space’s mission, it could still launch from LC-39A, resulting in congestion on an already busy schedule.
LC-39A’s launch schedule includes the first Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) mission and the 29th SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-29) mission to the ISS. A transformation from a Falcon 9 to a Falcon Heavy configuration takes approximately three weeks, delaying subsequent launches.
The SpaceX Crew-8 mission is expected to launch in mid-February, after Axiom Space’s mission. By having the option to launch from SLC-40, SpaceX can better meet customer needs and accommodate more opportunities within a shorter timeframe.
Installation of the crew access arm and emergency egress system are among the final major components needed for the tower. The construction is projected to be completed by the end of 2023. If the new tower is not ready in time, Axiom Space’s mission will have priority to launch from LC-39A, which could potentially delay the IM-1 mission.
This new tower will be a valuable asset for SpaceX and its customers. With increasing demands to launch to the ISS and commercial space stations in the future, having a dedicated crew and cargo access facility will enhance efficiency and flexibility in meeting these growing aspirations.