Freighter Dragon leaves space station and heads for splashdown near Florida – Spaceflight Now

SpaceX’s Dragon cargo capsule departs the International Space Station on Friday after 34 days at the complex. Credit: NASA TV / Spaceflight Now

A SpaceX Dragon supply freighter detached from the International Space Station on Friday, heading for a splashdown off the coast of Florida on Saturday with about two tons of cargo, experiments and a leaking spacesuit.

The unmanned cargo carrier will bring home a spacesuit worn by European astronaut Matthias Maurer in March, when the station crew noticed a water leak in Maurer’s helmet after returning to the pressurized airlock from the laboratory. NASA has suspended the use of US spacesuits for non-emergency spacewalks until the suit is returned to Earth for inspection and analysis.

The undocking of the SpaceX capsule from the space station‘s Harmony module occurred at 11:05 a.m. EDT (1505 GMT) as the complex orbited 416 kilometers above the Pacific Ocean. Twelve hooks opened to allow the freighter to pulse thrusters to leave the station, preparing for deorbit with the capsule’s Draco thrusters at 2:04 p.m. EDT (1804 GMT) Saturday.

The Dragon spacecraft will jettison its disposable trunk section just before deorbiting. The trunk will largely burn up during an uncontrolled re-entry into the atmosphere, when aerodynamic drag drags it back to Earth.

The reusable pressurized section of the Dragon capsule will re-enter the atmosphere over the United States, flying northwest to southeast on a descending node entry track to target a parachute-assisted splashdown in the ocean Atlantic northeast of Cape Canaveral, Florida at 2:53 a.m. EDT (1853 GMT).

NASA and SpaceX will not provide live coverage of the mission’s return to Earth.

The undocking and return to Earth of the Dragon spacecraft was delayed by a day due to poor weather forecasts in the recovery area off the coast of Florida.

A SpaceX recovery vessel will be in position to reassemble the Sea Dragon spacecraft.

Urgent cargoes, such as biological research samples, will be helicoptered back to Kennedy Space Center, where NASA researchers will receive and catalog the materials for analysis and distribution to scientists around the world.

The undocking and immersion will complete SpaceX’s 25th resupply mission to the space station since 2012 under two multibillion-dollar commercial contracts with NASA.

The mission launched July 14 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop a Falcon 9 rocket. The Dragon freighter docked at the space station on July 16 and astronauts began unpacking science experiments, fresh food, spare parts and other supplies.

Last month’s delivery carried 5,881 pounds (2,668 kilograms) of cargo to the station and its crew of seven, including 4,682 pounds (2,124 kilograms) of equipment inside the Dragon’s pressurized cabin. An additional 1,199 (544 kilograms) of cargo was stowed inside Dragon’s unpressurized rear cargo hold, or trunk.

SpaceX’s Dragon freighter (top) docked to the International Space Station’s Harmony module. Credit: NASA

There were also spare parts delivered by the Dragon spacecraft for the space station toilet, a spare catalytic reactor and an ion exchange bed for the station’s water recycling system, and brine processor assembly bladders to recover extra water from urine, improving the water recovery capacity of the research laboratory. .

The Dragon spacecraft also delivered five NASA-sponsored CubeSats to the space station for deployment via Japan’s Kibo laboratory module.

During its flight to the station, the resupply mission carried a spare battery charge/discharge unit for the station’s power system in the Dragon Vault, the next dust source investigation instrument Earth’s surface mineral, or EMIT, from NASA. Like EMIT, the battery charge/discharge unit was robotically extracted from the Dragon’s rear cargo bay and placed on a mounting post outside the station.

Developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the $118 million EMIT instrument will measure the mineral content of the world’s desert regions, the source of global dust storms that can impact climate and weather around the world entire.

NASA officials are eager for the Dragon spacecraft to bring the leaked spacesuit back to Earth. The water leak discovered after Maurer’s spacewalk in March was similar to the problem that caused a spacewalk emergency in 2013 when European astronaut Luca Parmitano had to abort a spacewalk due to a water leak.

Parmitano struggled to breathe and lost vision as water filled his helmet, but he escaped injury in one of the most dangerous spacewalking incidents in the history of the modern space.

Maurer didn’t notice his water leak until he was back inside the station. But NASA officials don’t want to hold any non-emergency spacewalks until they complete an investigation into the water leak.

“We need to take this costume home and look at it as part of the investigation to really try to figure out what happened to the costume, and that will be part of what we need for our assessment of our possible readiness when we’re looking at going back to nominal EVAs (spacewalks),” said Dana Weigel, NASA’s deputy space station program manager.

The next spacewalks on NASA’s schedule are scheduled for later this year, when the next SpaceX Dragon cargo mission delivers a new set of solar arrays to the station. Astronauts will help install the new solar panels, requiring at least two spacewalks to complete the job.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Comments are closed.