SpaceX's Crew Dragon Splashed Down Back On Earth, Safely Completing Its Mission

SpaceX's Crew Dragon Splashed Down Back On Earth, Safely Completing Its Mission

On Friday the Crew Dragon capsule will detach from the International Space Station (ISS) 400km above Earth and begin a fiery journey back through the atmosphere, ending in a splashdown 450km off the coast of Florida.

Crew Dragon's near-perfect flight - an on-time launch, a flawless docking, and six days of operating in the punishing environment of space - did not guarantee a ideal reentry.

First autonomous docking of a USA spacecraft to the International Space Station.

In addition to bringing Ripley safely back to Earth, Crew Dragon is tasked with returning some 350 pounds of gear and scientific experiments.

The live view then switched to color cameras on SpaceX's recovery ship, the Go Searcher, which saw the drogue and main parachutes deploy successfully.

"The vehicle really did better than we expected", Steve Stich, deputy Commercial Crew program manager for NASA, said shortly after the landing.

The burn itself kicked off on time, at 12:53 UTC, shaving a critical few hundred miles an hour off the Crew Dragon's speed ahead of a splashdown, almost 50 years to the day since Apollo 9 returned to Earth.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft opens its nose cone before docking with the International Space Station on March 3. In contrast to the pristine white hull seen in earlier phases of its mission, the vehicle now bears long scorch marks from its fiery re-entry to Earth's atmosphere.

ISS Crew Member Earth Continues Work Aboard the Station 1
Earth making sure she is on schedule | Image credit NASA Anne McClain

Slowed by four parachutes during its descent, the unmanned spacecraft splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean around 8:45 am Eastern time Friday about 250 miles east of Kennedy Space Center in Florida, roughly six hours after undocking.

Additional issues may turn up as a result of Demo-1's post-flight assessment, or during an upcoming test of the Crew Dragon's in-flight abort system. Demo-2 will be the first crewed test flight aboard the Crew Dragon. SpaceX has always intended for its Dragon capsules to transport humans, but every Dragon launched to the ISS so far-16 in all-has carried only cargo.

SpaceX and Boeing, which is building a vehicle called Starliner, have contracts worth up to $2.6 billion and $4.2 billion, respectively. But before astronauts can climb aboard, SpaceX has to prove Dragon is ready. "That [shape] could potentially cause a roll instability on reentry", Musk said.

Roscosmos, the state-owned space corporation of Russian Federation, and its Soyuz rockets have been the one and only ride available to NASA astronauts since the Space Shuttle program was shut down.

"The bottom line is that the thing has to work every time", NASA astronaut Dough Hurley, one of the two crew members assigned to the July mission, told Ars Technica. "I think it's unlikely, we've run simulations a thousand times, but this is a possibility".

The nose cone of the Crew Dragon was closed once the burn completed, unlike the cargo version, which jettisons its own covering during launch.

The company was founded in 2002 by South African entrepreneur Elon Musk with the goal of reducing space transportation costs and working toward colonizing Mars.

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