A SpaceX cargo capsule disconnected from the International Space Station on Thursday and headed for splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico after a two-day delay to wait for Tropical Storm Elsa to clear the area.
Flying in autopilot mode, the Cargo Dragon capsule backed away from the space station’s Harmony module at 10.45 EDT (1445 GMT) Thursday as the complex sailed more than 250 miles across the South Atlantic.
The spacecraft fired thrusters to leave the vicinity of the space station and set the scene for re-entry and splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico south of Tallahassee, Florida, around 1 p.m. 23.29 EDT Friday (0329 GMT Saturday).
The non-piloted supply ship spent 33 days at the space station since docking there on June 5, two days after launching aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The mission, which ends Friday, is SpaceX’s 22nd return cargo flight to the space station since 2012. NASA has contracts with SpaceX and Northrop Grumman to fly commercial shipping missions to the station.
On the trip up to the space station, the Dragon capsule delivered more than 7,300 kilos of cargo, including experiments and upgraded solarrays. Astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Thomas Pesquet installed and rolled the roll-out of solarrays on three spacewalks last month.
After unpacking the ship’s payload cabin, the station’s astronauts loaded about 2,400 kg of research specimens, experiments and other equipment to return to Earth, according to a NASA spokesman.
Experiments coming back to earth include a pharmaceutical study by Eli Lilly and Company looking at how gravity affects freeze-dried materials. On Earth, freeze-drying medicines for long-term storage result in layers with structural differences, and scientists want to know if samples that are freeze-dried in microgravity on the space station have a different structure.
The Dragon capsule also returns an experiment that assesses how gravity affects the structure, composition, and activity of oral bacteria. The data could help design treatments to combat oral diseases on long-term space missions to the moon and Mars, according to NASA.
Leah Cheshier, a NASA spokeswoman, said the Dragon capsule also returns to Earth with space travel equipment, including a pistol grip tool, torque wrench, cooler, water sampling kit and space drag components, such as gloves.
“I want to thank all the SpaceX and NASA teams and all the scientists, engineers and scientists who have equipment on this vehicle,” Kimbrough said after the Dragon spacecraft left the station on Thursday. “It was a fantastic vehicle. It kept us busy for the last month doing a lot of good science. ”
The Dragon spacecraft will close its available trunk section at 22.41 EDT Friday (0241 GMT Saturday). The pressureless trunk hosts the ship’s photovoltaic system.
The capsule fires its Draco thrusters at 10:45 EDT (0245 GMT) in a nine-minute deorbit combustion to slow the vessel’s speed enough to fall back into the atmosphere.
After plunging into the atmosphere with a heat shield to protect against scorching temperatures, the Dragon capsule will use four parachutes a few minutes before spraying into the Gulf of Mexico at. 23.29 EDT (0329 GMT).
SpaceX’s “Go Navigator” recovery ship will be close to the Dragon Capsule’s splashdown zone south of Tallahassee. SpaceX crews pull the spacecraft out of the ocean and begin unpacking time-sensitive cargo, including experimental freezers to preserve sensitive samples returned from the space station.
The experiments will be ferried ashore by helicopter so scientists can quickly begin analyzing the results.
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