retrieval crews began recovery of the company’s Dragon CRS-2 resupply craft from Pacific waters off the coast of Baja, Calif., on March 26, following its departure from the International Space Station and a successful plunge through the Earth’s atmosphere.
Slowed by three parachutes, the unpiloted capsule splashed down 200 mi. west of Baja at 12:34 p.m. EDT, with a nearly 2,700-lb. cargo of research gear and equipment for distribution to scientists, refurbishment or disposal.
“Dragon splashed down safely in the Pacific,” SpaceX announced by Twitter. “Welcome home.”
“Recovery ship has secured Dragon,” Elon Musk, SpaceX founder and chief engineer, added by Twitter at 1 p.m. EDT. “Cargo looks A-OK.”
The recovery marked the end of a 25-day flight, the second launched by Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX under a $1.6 billion, 12-missionCommercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract awarded in late 2008. The Dragon CRS-3 mission is currently scheduled for a late September liftoff.
“Sad to see Dragon go. She performed her job beautifully,” U.S. astronaut Tom Marshburn informed’s Mission Control as he released the supply craft from the grasp of the station’s 58-ft.-long Canadian robot arm at 6:56 a.m. EDT. Marshburn, assisted by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, worked from a robot arm control post in the station’s Cupola observation deck. The 10-min. braking maneuver that started Dragon’s descent kicked off at 11:42 a.m. EDT.
Dragon’s return cargo was dominated by U.S., European, Japanese and Canadian research equipment, including frozen medical specimens supporting experiments focused on human adaptation to weightlessness.
The capsule’s return cargo included an investigation of skeletal changes in Medaka fish, which occupied a space station aquarium; protein crystals grown in space; plant samples cultured to evaluate their response to weightlessness; and the long-running Spheres experiment, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology investigation into the autonomous control of multiple satellites. Other returning equipment included spacewalk tools and discarded food containers.
The SpaceX recovery fleet — a 100-ft.-long primary retrieval ship with hoist, crew vessel with a mission communications link and two smaller inflatable boats — will head for the Port of Los Angeles, where the highest priority research materials will be offloaded and flown to NASA’sin Houston for distribution to scientists.
The recovery fleet should reach port by late March 27. The reusable capsule will be trucked to a SpaceX rocket proving ground in McGregor, Texas, for further processing.
Launched from Cape Canaveral atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on March 1, the CRS-2 Dragon spacecraft reached the station two days later, once SpaceX flight controllers overcame early difficulties with the thruster system crucial to orbital maneuvers and attitude control.
Dragon’s delivery included its first ISS external cargo, a pair of grapple bars that will be installed on space station radiators during spacewalks set for later this year, and nearly 1,300 lb. of research gear and internal supplies.