In SpaceX Dragon cargo ship made its first autonomous docking ever from the International Space Station on Tuesday (January 12) and set the stage for a return to Earth this week.
The historic event – the first release from an unmanned American supply ship, saw SpaceX’s CRS-21 Cargo Dragon back away from the Harmony module’s spaceport at. 9:05 AM EST (1405 GMT). Live views on NASA Television showed the spacecraft maneuvering in orbit as it left the station as both spacecraft sailed high across the South Atlantic.
“Godspeed, Cargo Dragon and to the recovery team,”
Video: See SpaceX’s 1st automated, non-created docking at the space station
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It takes about 36 hours for SpaceX Dragon to return to Earth. The spacecraft is expected to squirt into the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday (January 13), though NASA and SpaceX will not broadcast the splashdown live. The spacecraft carries 5,200 kg. (2,500 kg) scientific experiments and other equipment back to Earth.
“Dragon will carry out a deorbit incineration at 19:37 EST [0200 GMT Thursday, Jan. 14] to begin its reintroduction sequence into the Earth’s atmosphere. Dragon is expected to splash down west of Tampa off the coast of Florida around noon. 20:27 EST [0327 GMT], ”NASA said in a statement.
SpaceX’s upgraded Cargo Dragon capsule can carry 20% more goods and experiments than previous versions of the craft, providing increased science from each mission. Previously, all Dragon spacecraft were placed to the space station using the outpost’s robot Canadarm2, and then they sprayed into the Pacific Ocean – far away from the science treatment center at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA said the new delivery time for experimental analysis would start as soon as four hours after the splashdown. NASA and SpaceX originally planned for Cargo Dragon to spray into the Atlantic off the east coast of Florida, but bad weather in its drop zone caused a day’s delay.
The Dragon spacecraft launched on December 6 from Launch Complex 39A and arrived at the space station about 24 hours later. The mission was also the first time that two dragons were docked to the space station at the same time, as Expedition 64’s Crew Dragon remains docked to the orbiting complex to return them to Earth later in the year. This Dragon spacecraft was launched in November with four astronauts on NASA’s Crew-1 mission.
Some of the recurring experiments include studies of cardiovascular cells, biofilms that can corrode stainless steel spacecraft structures, techniques to help with in-depth emergency navigation, and several live mice that help with long-term studies of why astronaut vision changes in space.
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