A SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft has successfully started heading to Earth after spending nearly a month at the International Space Station (ISS). The capsule is scheduled to splash down in the Atlantic Ocean. Somewhere off the coast of Florida on Friday, June 30, at around 10:30 a.m. EDT (1430 GMT), bringing back more than 1.630 kg (3.600 pounds) of scientific experiments and equipment, reports NASA.
The Dragon was launched on June 5 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a Falcon 9 rocket, carrying over 3.175 kg (7.000 pounds) of supplies and hardware to the orbiting lab. It arrived at the ISS on June 6 and was captured by the station’s robotic arm.
Science and hardware delivery
The cargo craft delivered a variety of science investigations and hardware, including the fifth and sixth International Space Station Roll Out Solar Arrays (iROSAs). The new solar arrays were installed this month, boosting the station’s power output by up to 30%.
The Dragon also carried experiments on yogurt production, muscle loss, monoclonal antibodies, and dexterous manipulation in microgravity. Some of these investigations will be retrieved from the capsule after landing in the ocean. There after they will be handed over to researchers for analysis.
Splashdown and recovery
NASA will not livestream the splashdown. SpaceX is one of two private companies that fly cargo missions to the ISS under contracts with NASA. The other is Northrop Grumman, which operates the Cygnus spacecraft. Unlike Cygnus and Russia’s Progress vehicles, which burn up in Earth’s atmosphere at the end of their missions, Dragon is capable of returning cargo and science samples to Earth. This makes it a valuable asset for researchers. Especially if want to study the effects of microgravity on various materials and organisms.
Dragon is also used to transport crew members to and from the ISS, as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The crewed version of Dragon can carry up to seven astronauts at a time and has a touchscreen interface and a sleek interior design. The first operational crewed flight of Dragon took place in November 2020, with four astronauts on board. SpaceX is currently preparing for its next crewed mission, Crew-7, which is scheduled to launch in August 2023.
SpaceX is also working on its Starship vehicle, which is designed to carry humans and cargo to the moon, Mars and beyond. The company has been testing Starship prototypes at its Boca Chica site in Texas, with mixed results. For example SN15, successfully landed on May 5 after reaching an altitude of about 6 miles (10 km).