Added by Erik West on October 28, 2012
SpaceX Dragon capsule, a private and American-made spacecraft, separated and de-orbited from the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday, completing an 18 day resupply mission.
SpaceX announced early on Sunday that ISS Mission Managers said conditions were favourable for the Dragon capsule to separate from the ISS. The capsule had already been loaded with samples, experiments, and hardware at the time.
The separation process began at about 11:26 UTC/GMT with the ISS using its robotic arm to position and release the capsule. Separation occurred about three minutes later; the capsule began conducting engine burns over about 45 minutes to place in in a trajectory for reentry into Earth’s atmosphere and a safe landing.
A live-stream of the capsule’s re-entry and splashdown was not available; however SpaceX updated its Twitter feed and web site as important events occurred.
Approximately 45 minutes after beginning reentry, the Dragon capsule emerged from its fiery reentry and deployed its three main parachutes in preparation for a splashdown in the Pacific, off the coast of Peru, at 5:22 UTC/GMT. The splashdown occurred on schedule and a team followed by recovery by a team of SpaceX divers.
The Dragon capsule, on its first mission called CRS-1, launched on October 8 atop a SpaceX-designed Falcon 9 rocket. It took the capsule approximately 11 minutes to be carried by the Falcon 9 rocket and inserted into obit around earth; the capsule caught-up with the ISS about 48 hours later.
The Dragon capsule is the first round-trip vehicle since NASA’s space shuttles. The Russian Soyuz capsules are one-way: they are burned up on re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere. The Dragon capsule, as part of a US$1.6 billion contract, is able to resupply and return cargo from the ISS.
The Falcon 9 spacecraft is named after the fictions Millennium Falcon spacecraft from Star Wars. The Dragon capsule is named after Puff the Magic Dragon – a fictional character in children’s’ books – because the Drago capsule was considered to be ‘fantastical’ during its development.
Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, or SpaceX was founded in 2002 by former PayPal entrepreneur Elon Musk. It has developed the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 launch vehicles, both of which were designed from conception to eventually become reusable. SpaceX also developed the Dragon spacecraft to be flown into orbit by the Falcon 9 launch vehicle, initially transporting cargo and later planned to carry humans. On 25 May 2012, SpaceX made history as the world’s first privately held company to send a cargo payload, carried on the Dragon spacecraft, to the International Space Station.
A Soyuz spacecraft atop a Soyuz FG rocket, launched on October 23, carrying one American and two Russian astronauts. Since discontinuing its Space Shuttle program, NASA has paid Russia about US$63m per astronaut to get them to the space station.