SpaceX capsule returns to earth following visit to space station

SpaceX capsule
The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule approaches the International Space Station.

An unmanned capsule from Elon Musk’s SpaceX returned to earth on Friday morning after a short-term stay on the International Space Station, ending the first orbital test mission in NASA’s quest to resume human space flight from U.S. soil this year.

A SpaceX rocket had launched the 16-foot-tall capsule from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday morning. After a five-day mission on the orbital outpost, Crew Dragon was set to autonomously detach about 2:30 a.m EST (0730 GMT) on Friday and descend to earth for an 8:45 a.m. splash-down off Florida’s Cape Canaveral coast.

Officials at the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration will scrutinize the performance of the SpaceX capsule’s parachute deployment and its buoyancy after splash-down.

“I say hypersonic re-entry is probably my biggest concern,” Musk, co-founder of electric car maker Tesla Inc, told reporters after the launch, referring to the capsule reaching thousands of miles per hour as it goes through the earth’s atmosphere.

The first-of-its-kind mission, ahead of SpaceX’s crewed test flight slated for June, brought 400 pounds of test equipment to the space station, including a dummy named Ripley, outfitted with sensors around its head, neck, and spine to monitor how a flight would feel for a human.

The space station’s three-member crew greeted the capsule Sunday morning, with U.S. astronaut Anne McClain and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques entering Crew Dragon’s cabin to carry out air quality tests and inspections.

“The capsule’s approach as seen on the earth’s horizon from the station represented the dawn of a new era in human spaceflight,” McClain tweeted on Sunday.

By Thursday the space station crew bid farewell to Ripley and closed the hatch ahead of Dragon’s Friday morning departure.

NASA has awarded SpaceX and Boeing Co $6.8 billion in all to build competing rocket and capsule systems to launch astronauts into orbit from American soil, something not possible since the U.S. Space Shuttle was retired from service in 2011.

The launch systems are aimed at ending U.S. reliance on Russian Soyuz rockets for $80 million-per-seat rides to the $100 billion orbital research laboratory, which flies about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the cost per seat on the Boeing or SpaceX systems would be lower than for the shuttle or Soyuz.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s