Today SpaceX’s Dragon capsule is set to splash-down at 11:44 am EDT after a successful mission to the International Space Station.
Whether you love or hate Elon Musk ( or love or hate Barack Obama for that matter ) one cannot dispute that this was an important flight for the American aerospace industry and important for NASA.
The engine burn to begin Dragon’s descent is due to begin in about 90 minutes, aiming the capsule for a splashdown point about 560 miles west of Baja California, where three recovery boats contracted by SpaceX are on station to receive the capsule.
Dragon’s de-orbit burn is set for 10:51 a.m. EDT (1451 GMT), setting up the spacecraft to plunge back into Earth’s atmosphere at 17,000 mph, flying from northwest to southeast over the North Pacific before deploying drogue parachutes and main chutes.
Dragon will also jettison its trunk, an unpressurized section which houses the craft’s solar panels, at 11:09 a.m. EDT (1509 GMT). The trunk will burn up in the atmosphere.
The craft’s Draco thrusters will periodically fire during re-entry to refine Dragon’s trajectory to reach the desired landing zone in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.
The capsule’s drogue stabilization parachutes will deploy at an altitude of 45,000 feet at 11:35 a.m. EDT (1535 GMT). Three 116-foot main parachutes will unfurl 10,000 feet above the water at 11:36 a.m. EDT (1536 GMT).
Dragon is designed to splash down at a vertical speed of about 11 mph. SpaceX says the craft can safely land even it one of its main parachutes fails.
American Marine is providing the vessels for the recovery. A 185-foot barge with a crane will lift the capsule aboard its deck for the voyage back to port. An 80-foot crew ship and two 25-foot inflatable recovery boats are also in the flotilla.
About a dozen SpaceX engineers and a four-person dive team will assist with Dragon’s recovery from the sea.
Once the Dragon spacecraft is aboard the primary barge, the fleet will sail for the Port of Los Angeles, where crews will access a limited amount of the capsule’s more than 1,300 pounds of cargo returning from the space station.
The early access is a demonstration by SpaceX for NASA in preparation for future flights, which may carry sensitive biological samples or experiments requiring quick examination.
SpaceX will transport Dragon to its test site in McGregor, Texas, for post-flight processing and to offload the rest of its cargo.