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SpaceX completes static fire test ahead of first private astronaut mission to ISS

By Amy Thompson
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SpaceX completes static fire test ahead of first private astronaut mission to ISS
The Axiom-1 crew practices launch day procedures ahead of a planned Friday morning launch. Photo courtesy of Axiom Space/Twitter

ORLANDO, Fla., April 6 (UPI) -- SpaceX on Wednesday completed a static fire test ahead of its launch of the first-ever private mission to the International Space Station, Axiom-1.

The mission will see a crew of four civilians strap into a Crew Dragon capsule and blast off on a 10-day flight where they will conduct research onboard the orbital outpost.

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The launch, scheduled for 11:17 a.m. EDT Friday, will use a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket to blast off from Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Less than 24 hours later, at 6:45 a.m. EDT, the capsule is expected to dock to the space station.

Weather officials at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station predicted an 80% chance of favorable weather for Friday's launch.

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A cold front was expected to move in overnight Thursday, bringing with it potential for upper level winds and iffy weather along the rocket's trajectory. SpaceX said teams will ensure the booster can make a safe landing, and that the crew is able to abort safely if an anomaly pops up during flight.

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To ensure the rocket was ready to fly, SpaceX on Wednesday briefly fired up the Falcon 9's first stage engines while holding the rocket in place.

This type of test allows engineers to review data collected from the vehicle's various systems. After the test, SpaceX confirmed it was ready to launch.

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Earlier Wednesday, the crew rehearsed launch procedures.

They are Michael López-Alegría, a retired NASA astronaut; Larry Connor, a real estate and technology entrepreneur; Mark Pathy, a Canadian businessman; and Eytan Stibbe, an Israeli entrepreneur and former fighter jet pilot.

Called a dry dress, the crew practiced the steps they would complete on launch day, including suiting up and strapping into the rocket.

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Up next for the Axiom mission will be a launch readiness review on Thursday. This will be the determining factor for whether the mission gets the final green light to proceed with launch day activities.

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The mission has faced myriad delays, including a wait of several days for NASA to carry out prelaunch testing on its next mega moon rocket, the Space Launch System, which sits on an adjacent launch pad.

That test ran into several anomalies, so it has been paused long enough for Axiom-1 to launch for the ISS.

The space station has a variety of docking ports that are meant to support different types of vehicles.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft happens to be fully autonomous, able to park itself at one of two specialized ports designed. The other empty space is occupied by the current ISS crew.

Axiom-1 needs to complete its mission before NASA's next crew of astronauts -- Americans Jessica Watkins, Bob Hines and Kjell Lindgren and Italian Samatha Cristoforetti -- can launch on their own six-month mission.

Dubbed Crew-4, the mission is scheduled to launch no earlier than April 20. NASA is hoping to get the Crew-4 astronauts on station and acquainted with their surroundings before sending the Crew-3 astronauts home at the end of April.

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