SpaceX Dragon spacecraft on track for Pacific Ocean

31 May 2012

The Dragon capsule is detached from the International Space Station today. The astronauts used a robotic arm to detach Dragon. Image by NASA

SpaceX Dragon is returning to Earth today from its mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The spacecraft was released from the station this morning and is set to deorbit and splashdown in the Pacific at 3.44pm (GMT) or 11.44am (EDT).

Crew members aboard the ISS used a robotic arm to release the unmanned capsule, following its successful mission to the ISS last Friday.

SpaceX said Dragon will return to Earth like a “burning comet”.

The company, which is owned by PayPal and Tesla co-founder Elon Musk, said Dragon will be protected from the extreme temperatures as it re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere by its PICA-X heat shield.

Before its departure, the ISS astronauts loaded Dragon with 1,455 pounds of cargo that will be returned to NASA. The cargo includes hardware used for experiments, spacewalks and station systems.

According to NASA, Dragon is on target to splashdown in the Pacific Ocean at 11:44am (EDT), hundreds of kilometres west of Baja, California.

In its final few minutes of descent, Dragon will be slowed down by three parachutes.

Dragon will look like a burning comet as it returns to Earth, according to SpaceX

Artist’s rendition of what Dragon will look like today as it returns to Earth like a burning comet. Image courtesy of SpaceX

Three rescue boats are set to rescue Dragon when it lands in the Pacific. Assuming the splashdown is successful, SpaceX will then transport Dragon back to port, before ferrying it to its Texas facility for inspection.

The Dragon mission to the ISS has been heralded as signalling a new era for commercial space travel. Musk is expecting to be able to carry astronauts in his Dragon spacecrafts within the next three to four years.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic