Dragon packed and ready for return to Earth

In an image from NASA, the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft is grappled by the Canadarm2 robotic arm on arrival at the space station last week.
In an image from NASA, the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft is grappled by the Canadarm2 robotic arm on arrival at the space station last week.
Posted: June 01, 2012

LOS ANGELES - SpaceX's Dragon space capsule, which last week became the world's first privately built and operated spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station, is scheduled to return to Earth on Thursday morning.

The unmanned capsule is set to splash down at 11:44 a.m. Philadelphia time in the Pacific Ocean hundreds of miles west of Southern California. It will be the culmination of a historic mission carried out by the Hawthorne, Calif.-based company, officially known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

The Dragon's departure from the space station - loaded with 1,400 pounds of experiments and old equipment for return to NASA - will be webcast on NASA TV starting at 3:30 a.m. The spacecraft will be separated from the space station using the station's robotic arm and is scheduled to be released at 6:10 a.m.

The craft will then make its way back to Earth by firing its Draco thrusters to de-orbit. Much of this will be out of range of live television, so coverage will be cut off until 10:15, NASA said.

According to the schedule, once the Dragon enters the atmosphere it will deploy parachutes about 11:35 to slow its descent into the ocean.

After splashdown, the craft will be retrieved by a ship.

If successful, this will be the second time that SpaceX has launched a space capsule into orbit and had it survive a fiery reentry. The company previously pulled off the feat in December 2010.

The company also says it has signed its first commercial contract for a new rocket that will be more powerful than the one that launched the company's Dragon capsule to the International Space Station.

SpaceX said it would loft a satellite for the communications-services company Intelsat, using a Falcon Heavy launch vehicle.

Such launches cost $83 million to $128 million, depending on weight.

SpaceX says its Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful rocket in the world and, historically, second only to the Saturn 5 rockets that launched the Apollo missions to the moon.


This article contains information from the Associated Press.

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