Photo provided by SpaceX – capsule in Pacific right after splashdown
SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft successfully returned to Earth Thursday, becoming the first privately-owned spacecraft to complete a mission to the International Space Station.
The pilotless Dragon left the ISS after a nine-day mission loaded with 1,455 pounds of cargo on early Thursday morning. After separating from the space station, Dragon fired a series of engine burns to slow itself down enough to drop from orbit. The craft encountered temperatures of up to 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit on the most intense part of the fall.
Dragon also fired a series of thruster bursts to keep itself on target for a splashdown a few hundred miles from southern California. At 45,000 feet above the Earth, the craft deployed two small parachutes that stabilized its flight path. Once those parachutes were fully deployed, three main brightly colored chutes were released, each with a diameter of 116 feet. Dragon’s altitude loss then slowed to about 17 feet per second, allowing it a comfortable aquatic arrival.
While Dragon descended from the heavens, a NASA aircraft watched via infrared camera and a pre-positioned group of ships owned by SpaceX sat ready to recover the 19-foot-long spacecraft. The craft touched down in the cloud-covered Pacific Ocean at 11:42 a.m. ET.
The ships’ crewmembers initially had trouble locating the spacecraft because of the heavy cloud coverage in the area, but the orange-and-white main parachutes caught their attention. SpaceX dive teams then disconnected the main parachutes and towed the craft to the barge, which used a heavy-lifting crane to take it on board…
Dragon launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on May 22 after a series of delays. It docked with the ISS on May 25, becoming the first privately-owned spacecraft to do so. The spacecraft brought experimental equipment and other cargo to the ISS.
Bravo. Another milestone completed.