SpaceX Dragon cargo ship made its first autonomous disconnection from the International Space Station on Tuesday (January 12th), marking the beginning of a return to Earth this week.
The historic event, the first disconnection from an unwrapped U.S. delivery ship, saw SpaceX’s CRS-21 Cargo Dragon retreat from the Harmony module’s spaceport at 9:05 a.m. EST (1405 GMT). Live reviews on NASA television showed the spacecraft maneuvering into orbit as it left the station, while the two spacecraft floated high over the South Atlantic.
“Godspeed, Cargo Dragon and the recovery team,”
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It will take about 36 hours for SpaceX Dragon to return to Earth. The spacecraft is expected to burst into the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday (January 13th), although NASA and SpaceX will not broadcast the takeoff live. The spacecraft carries 5,200 pounds. (2,500 kilograms) of scientific experiments and other facilities back to Earth.
“The dragon will make a beamless burn at 7:37 p.m. EST [0200 GMT Thursday, Jan. 14] to begin its sequence of re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere. Dragon is expected to burst west of Tampa off the coast of Florida around 8:27 p.m. EST [0327 GMT], “NASA said in a statement.
SpaceX’s upgraded Cargo Dragon capsule can carry 20% more cargo and experiments than previous versions of the vessel, allowing for increased science from each mission. Previously, all Dragon spacecraft were attached to the space station using the Canadarm2 robotic outpost and would then explode into the Pacific Ocean, away from the science processing center at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA said the new time to perform the experimental analysis will begin immediately four hours after the launch. NASA and SpaceX originally planned to launch a cargo dragon into the Atlantic Ocean off the east coast of Florida, but bad weather in the area of its fall caused a one-day delay.
The Dragon spacecraft launched on December 6 from launch complex 39A, arriving at the space station about 24 hours later. The mission was also the first time two dragons were attached to the space station at the same time, as the crew dragon of Expedition 64 remained attached to the orbital complex to return them to Earth later this year. This Dragon spacecraft launched in November with four astronauts from NASA’s Crew-1 mission.
Some of the returning experiments include studies of cardiovascular cells, biofilms that can corrode stainless steel spacecraft structures, techniques to aid emergency navigation in deep space, and several live mice that help in long-term studies of why astronauts’ vision is changing in space.
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