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Splashdown in Pacific Ocean ends SpaceX's mission to space station

October 28, 2012|By W.J. Hennigan

After spending three weeks in outer space, SpaceX's Dragon space capsule survived a fiery reentry of the Earth’s atmosphere and splashed down hundreds of miles west of Southern California.

When the unmanned cone-shaped capsule hit the water at 12:22 p.m. Pacific time Sunday, it marked the end of the mission carried out by the Hawthorne company officially known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

The spacecraft delivered 882 pounds of supplies to the space station earlier this month and returned with 1,673 pounds of cargo. The mission was SpaceX’s first of 12 such cargo missions under a $1.6-billion contract with NASA.

Dragon's mission, which began Oct. 7 when the Falcon 9 rocket it sat atop lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., was the first test of NASA's plan to outsource resupply missions to privately funded companies now that the U.S. space shuttle fleet has been retired.

The mission wasn’t flawless. One of the nine engines on SpaceX's massive Falcon 9 rocket experienced a problem and shut down shortly after launch. Because of the glitch, a satellite that the rocket was carrying didn’t reach orbit, but the NASA resupply mission went on as planned.

The Dragon capsule connected with the space station Oct. 10 and astronauts aboard the outpost unloaded cargo, experiments and clothes. The Dragon then spent 18 days attached to the station and was refilled with a variety of cargo, which will be delivered to NASA.

Astronauts sent the capsule back at 6:25 a.m. for a trip that lasted about six hours. Watch a video of the departure here or above.

After the capsule reentered Earth's atmosphere, the three main parachutes billowed open about five minutes before splashdown. The orange-and-white-striped parachutes, each 116 feet in diameter, slowed the craft's descent to 16 to 18 feet per second.

The craft bobbed in the water until an 90-foot boat equipped with a crane, a 90-foot crew boat for telemetry operations, two 25-foot rigid-hull inflatable boats made the recovery. The capsule is set to arrive at the Port of Long Beach.


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