March 26th, 2013 by James Ayre
SpaceX’s Dragon capsule has nearly finished its current stay at the International Space Station, being scheduled to depart around 7:06am on Tuesday, March 26th. The spacecraft successfully completed its most recent space docking at the ISS about three weeks ago, and will now be headed back to the Earth filled up with a variety of samples from recent experiments.
NASA Television will begin providing coverage of Dragon’s departure at 4 a.m. EDT.
Dragon was originally scheduled to depart on the 25th, but that date was changed “due to inclement weather developing near its targeted splashdown site in the Pacific Ocean. The additional day spent attached to the orbiting laboratory will not affect science samples scheduled to return aboard the spacecraft.”
The schedule is for Dragon “to be detached from the Earth-facing side of the station’s Harmony module and unberthed by Expedition 35 Flight Engineer and NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn. Expedition 35 Commander Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency will back-up Marshburn and monitor Dragon’s systems during the activity.”
“Marshburn, working from the robotic work station in the space station’s cupola, will maneuver the station’s robotic arm for the release of the spacecraft at 7:06 a.m. Dragon will execute three thruster firings to move away from the station to a safe distance for its deorbit burn at 11:40 a.m. Dragon will splash down around 12:36 p.m. in the Pacific Ocean west of Baja California.”
“Dragon is the only space station resupply spacecraft able to return to Earth intact. It will return about 2,668 pounds (1,210 kilograms) of science samples from human research, biology and biotechnology studies, physical science investigations and education activities.”
“Experiment samples coming back to Earth will help researchers continue to assess the impact of long-duration spaceflight on the human body. Returning plant samples will aid in food production during future long-duration space missions and enhance crop production on Earth. Crystals grown aboard and returning from the station could help in the development of more efficient solar cells and semiconductor-based electronics.”
It’s interesting how fast the docking of a privately-owned spacecraft at the ISS has become almost “mundane”. It was just last May when SpaceX became the world’s first privately held company to send a cargo payload, carried on the Dragon spacecraft, to the ISS. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few years with regards to private space flight. As an interesting note, SpaceX’s planned sample-return mission to Mars, “Red Dragon”, is projected to cost about $425 million dollars, that’s considerably less than many of the recent rover missions, and this one would actually bring material from Mars back to the Earth.
Image Credit: NASA
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