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Space Station Crew Preps SpaceX Dragon for Spashdown

European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers floats in the SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule before it departs the International Space Staiton. Photo Credit/NASA Photo

 

The International Space Station crew gathered Wednesday to prepare the SpaceX Dragon capsule for its departure, with only a Pacific Ocean splashdown and recovery standing in the way of a successful conclusion of the first U. S.commercial re-supply mission to the orbiting science lab.

The Dragon capsule will splashdown about 550 miles southwest of Los Angeles, Calif., on Thursday just before 12 p.m., EDT, if all goes well.

Dragon was launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on May 22 as the center piece of a test mission sponsored by NASA’s six-year-old Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program. The program was initiated by NASA to foster commercial cargo and eventually crew transportation services to Earth orbit, freeing NASA to shift its focus to human deep space exploration.

The unpiloted Dragon rendezvoused with the space station on May 25, enabling astronauts on board to capture the freighter with the orbiting science lab’s 58-foot-long Canadarm 2. A day later, the station’s crew opened the capsule for a 2,500 pound cargo exchange.

The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft in the clutches of Canadarm2. Photo Credit/NASA Photo

“We have a lot ahead of us. We have the entire recovery to perform,” John Couluris, the SpaceX mission manager said Wednesday. “It’s a very challenging phase of the flight.

Nonetheless, 10-year-old SpaceX has so far matched a fete accomplished only by the United States, Russia, Japan and the European Space Agency. Only Russia is currently recovering spacecraft – the three person Soyuz — returning from orbit.

SpaceX recovery ships have already set sail. Their crews intend to haul Dragon aboard ship after it floats to the ocean under parachute. The recovery forces will take the Dragon to Los Angeles to off load a small amount of cargo from the station, then fly the capsule to the company’s test complex in MacGregor, Tex., for further cargo unstowing and evaluation.

Under a prior contract with NASA, SpaceX is preparing to begin regular supply missions to the station – two are slated to lift off before the year ends.

A second company, Orbital Sciences Corp., is preparing to fly a similar test mission under NASA’s COTS program later this year. Regular Orbital Sciences re-supply flights would begin next spring.

 

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