Featured Image Source: NASA
Since 2012, SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft has conducted 20 resupply missions to the International Space Station (ISS), under a Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-1) contract with NASA. On March 7, the original Dragon spacecraft conducted its final journey to the station. The spacecraft will be retired and replaced with an upgraded version Dragon 2, known as Crew Dragon.
Today (April 7), after a month-long stay, Dragon returned over 4,000 pounds of cargo, including the results and supplies of scientific experiments. Some of the science research that was brought back to Earth include:
The Dragon spacecraft undocked from the space station this morning. It was released from the station's robotic arm at around 9:06 a.m. EDT. Robotic flight controllers from mission control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, issued commands to the space station's robotic Canadarm2 arm to release the Dragon capsule. Astronaut Andrew Morgan, who is currently working at the station, monitored the craft's departure. As Dragon was released, he said:
"That was the last time the arm and Dragon will meet that way. So it was fun to watch."
Dragon used its Draco thrusters to move away from ISS, in order to conduct a deorbit burn. About 6 hours after leaving the orbiting laboratory, Dragon reentered Earth's atmosphere. At around 2:50 p.m. EDT, it performed a parachute-assisted splashdown into the Pacific Ocean, off the coast from California's Long Beach. SpaceX announced:
"Good splashdown of Dragon confirmed, completing the 20th and final resupply mission for SpaceX's first iteration of the Dragon spacecraft!"
The 20th & final Dragon 1 mission is complete https://t.co/TyLLHA58Bw— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 7, 2020
Dragon's successful splashdown marks the end of an era. The first iteration of the craft will now be retired with the completion of CRS-20. During its time in operation, Dragon has spent over 520 days attached to the space station, it successfully delivered over 95,000 pounds of cargo, and safely returned over 76,000 pounds back to Earth. The spacecraft has also achieved many reusability milestones, each cargo craft was certified to fly up to 3 times.
Dragon's successor, Crew Dragon, will be capable of transporting up to 7 passengers to ISS. The craft features solar panels on its structure, instead of wing-like solar arrays. It also has upgraded technology that enables it to dock autonomously to the space station. NASA spokesperson Leah Cheshier said during the livestream:
"The Dragon used in subsequent missions will resemble the Crew Dragon and will also automatically dock at the space station rather than require robotic action."
SpaceX aims to launch its first crewed flight aboard the upgraded spacecraft in mid-to-late May. A cargo variant of Crew Dragon will continue performing resupply missions to the orbiting laboratory under a renewed Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-2) contract with NASA. The first resupply mission is scheduled for October this year.