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SpaceX's historic mission set to end with a Thursday splashdown

May 30, 2012|By W.J. Hennigan
  • Dragon became the first commercially developed space vehicle to dock with the International Space Station.
Dragon became the first commercially developed space vehicle to dock with… (NASA )

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 8:44 a.m. PDT 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-based company, officially known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

The Dragon’s departure from the space station will be webcast on NASA TV starting at 12:30 a.m. The spacecraft will be separated from the space station using the station’s robotic arm, and is scheduled to be  released at 3:10 a.m.

INTERACTIVE: SpaceX's demonstration mission

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 7:15 a.m., NASA said.

According to the schedule, once the Dragon enters the atmosphere it will deploy parachutes around 8:35 a.m. 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.

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SpaceX: A new frontier for space travel

NASA hails SpaceX launch as 'a new era' for spaceflight

SpaceX capsule captured by space station crew in historic mission

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