Dragon, an active cargo spacecraft of the Space Exploration Technologies Corp., has successfully returned to Earth after a 29-day stay in orbit.
The ship completed a 13-round trip supply missions to the International Space Station before making its descent to Earth on Saturday, Jan. 13.
Dragon's Successful Splashdown
SpaceX announced on Twitter a good on-target splashdown of the commercial cargo ship in the Pacific Ocean, west of Baja, California. The unmanned SpaceX Dragon was detached from the port of the ISS Harmony module and released by a robotic arm at 4:58 a.m. EST.
The Dragon began firing its thrusters at 9:43 a.m. EST for its return to Earth. The reentry process was a success and the Dragon's parachutes unfurled at 10:37 a.m. EST before settling in the ocean.
Space X will bring the supply ship to the company's testing facility in McGregor Texas for standard post-flight procedures.
$2 Billion Contract With NASA
The Dragon is carrying more than 4,100 pounds of space junk, gear, space hardware, biological samples, and other scientific specimens. NASA officials said the package contained important scientific materials for human and animal experiments.
Contents of the Dragon include time-sensitive specimens such as urine, blood samples and live mice from NASA's Rodent Research Program 6 that will be used by scientists for an experiment on muscle loss in space.
The science gear also includes a hardware from a space experiment by manufacturing company, Made In Space, for the 3D-printing of ZBLAN glass fiber optic wire in space. The contents of the cargo will be unloaded and handed over to NASA research teams.
SpaceX has a $2 billion contract with NASA for 20 supply missions to the space station, 13 of which already completed by the Dragon that is designed to survive reentry and carrying of the load back to Earth. Dragon's next cargo delivery mission for NASA is scheduled on April 2.
The Dragon And The Falcon 9
The Dragon and the Falcon 9 missions are important highlights of SpaceX rocket reusability program and commercial space flights.
Falcon 9 booster launched the Dragon mission on Dec. 15 from Cape Canaveral. The cargo capsule carrying 2.4 tons of space supplies reached the space station on Dec. 17.
Both the Falcon 9 booster and the Dragon capsule made their second trips to space on this flight. The successful return of the Dragon mission came amid speculations that the Zuma satellite launched by Falcon 9 early this month got lost in space.
SpaceX's most powerful rocket to date, the Falcon Heavy, is scheduled to launch its maiden flight this month. The Falcon Heavy has three Falcon 9 cores, an engine upper stage, and combined 27 engines. The spacecraft will run initial engine firing tests next week.