Early Friday morning (Aug. 26), SpaceX's robotic Dragon cargo spaceship will separate from the International Space Station, ferrying essential science specimens on a nearly 6-hour journey back to Earth.
You can watch the spacecraft leave the station live online on Space.com, courtesy of NASA TV. NASA's coverage begins at 5:45 a.m. EDT (0945 GMT), and astronauts are scheduled to release the spacecraft from the station's robotic arm at 6:10 a.m. EDT (1010 GMT).
Afterward, in a deorbit burn and landing process that will not be aired on NASA TV, the uncrewed Dragon will move a safe distance away from the station, then fire its engines to head back to Earth at 10:56 a.m. EDT (1456 GMT), finally splashing down in the Pacific Ocean west of Baja California at 11:47 a.m. EDT (1547 GMT).
The craft arrived at the space station last month, bringing nearly 5,000 lbs. (2,270 kilograms) of tools and supplies to the space station astronauts. It also bore in its trunk the first International Docking Adapter, which NASA astronauts Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins installed on the station last week. The adapter will allow future spacecraft, including a crewed version of the Dragon, to autonomously dock with the station instead of needing to be grappled by the robotic arm.
"Dragon delivered numerous science experiments July 20 that the Expedition 48 crew immediately unloaded and began working on," NASA officials said in a blog post. "Two of those experiments set to return on Friday include the Heart Cells study and Mouse Epigenetics. That research explored how microgravity affects human heart cells and alters gene expression and DNA in mice."
On Sept. 6, Williams and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin will leave the space station in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft and head back to Earth after a five-and-a-half-month stay.
CRS-9 Dragon prepares for homecoming to conclude successful mission
SpaceX’s CRS-9 Dragon spacecraft is preparing to depart from the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday, following a highly successful Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission to the orbital outpost. Known as End Of Mission (EOM) operations, Dragon’s safe return will be marked by a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean later in the day.
SpaceX CRS-9 EOM:
Dragon’s journey into space began just over a month ago, following a flawless launch from SLC-30 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
While Dragon was beginning her pursuit of the ISS, the first stage was completing the second successful landing on the LZ-1 pad back at the Cape.
A few days later, Dragon entered the Station’s back yard and prepared to be caught by the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS).
ISS Commander Jeff Williams and Flight Engineer Dr. Kate Rubins – working in the Robotic Work Station (RWS) in the Cupola lab – extended the “big arm” toward Dragon’s grapple fixture, before carefully translating the cargo-laden craft into Node-2 Harmony’s nadir port.
With the hatch opened later that day, the ISS crew began removing the array of supplies – totaling of 1,790 kg (3,946 lb) – inside the Dragon’s pressurized section.
This included 370 kilograms (816 lb) of supplies and provisions for the crew, 280 kg (617 lb) of spare and replacement parts for the space station, one kilogram (2.2 lb) of computer equipment, 127 kg (279.9 lb) of hardware to support EVAs and 54 kilograms (119 lb) of equipment for the Russian segment of the station.
Another 930 kilograms (2,050 lb) of cargo capacity is dedicated to scientific research, including a Biomolecule Sequencer which will attempt to sequence DNA in an attempt to demonstrate whether this is possible in the space environment.
In Dragon’s trunk section was a key payload that will help her big sister – Dragon 2 – dock with the ISS when the United States regains its domestic crew launch capability via the Commercial Crew Program (CCP) missions.
The International Docking Adapter (IDA) is a piece of hardware designed to convert the US Segment’s old Shuttle-era docking ports to a new docking system, thus allowing them to accept the upcoming commercial crew vehicles which will all use the updated docking system design.
The CRS-9 Dragon provided the ride uphill for IDA-2, allowing it to be removed from her trunk and installed during a robotics operation and via EVA-36 – conducted by Williams and Rubins.
To kick off the homecoming, the long sequence of events – that will ultimately lead to Dragon safely bobbing the Pacific Ocean – began on Thursday with the unberthing of Dragon from the Node 2 Nadir CBM, via the release of 16 bolts around the CBM berthing collar on the ISS side, performed in four sets of four bolts to ensure even unloading on the CBM interface.
Dragon was then pulled away from the ISS via the use of the SSRMS.
Dragon was manouvered to the release position approximately 30 feet below the ISS. She was left in this position for the night – known as the parking position.
Friday’s ops will begin with Dragon in the release position, ahead of the time for Dragon and the ISS to part ways.
Rubins, aided by Takuya Onishi of JAXA, will squeeze the trigger on the Rotational Hand Controller (RHC) on the RWS to release the snares holding the SSRMS Latching End Effector (LEE) to the Dragon Flight Releasable Grapple Fixture (FRGF) – effectively “letting go” of Dragon.
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This is expected to occur at 10:10 UTC – although the timing can vary, based on communications and lighting conditions.
With the SSRMS retracted safely clear, Dragon will then conduct a departure burn to depart to vicinity of the ISS, edging away from the orbital outpost, with two small thruster firings to push down the R-Bar.
A larger burn will then conducted to send Dragon outside of the approach ellipsoid, at which point SpaceX controllers in MCC-X will take full control of the mission.
Following the completion of departure burns, Dragon will conduct a free-flying phase on-orbit for just under five hours, during which time she will complete a critical action – the closure of the GNC bay door, to which the FRGF is mounted – before conducting a de-orbit burn at around 14:56 UTC.
The 10 minute deorbit burn will be conducted by the spacecraft’s Draco thrusters.
The umbilical between Dragon and its Trunk will be disengaged, prior to the Trunk separating from the Dragon capsule.
As the spacecraft enters Entry Interface (EI) she will be protected by her PICA-X heat shield – a Thermal Protection System (TPS) based on a proprietary variant of NASA’s phenolic impregnated carbon ablator (PICA) material – designed to protect the capsule during Earth atmospheric re-entry, and is even robust to protect Dragon from the high return velocities from Lunar and Martian destinations.
Once at the required velocity and altitude, Dragon’s drogue parachutes will be deployed, followed by Dragon’s main parachutes, easing the vehicle to a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California at around 15:47 UTC.
Three main recovery boats will soon arrive on station, with fast boats racing to meet the Dragon shortly after she hits the water, allowing for the recovery procedures to begin. The vehicle will be powered down and then hooked up to the recover assets.
Dragon will be transported to the port of Los Angeles, prior to a trip to Texas for cargo removal.
The cargo return – otherwise known as the downmass capability – is one of Dragon’s star roles following the retirement of the Shuttle fleet.
Although the spacecraft doesn’t get close to the capability of the orbiters, she will still return with 3,000 pounds of science samples from human research, biology and biotechnology studies, physical science investigations and education activities.
Known as late loading, the ISS crew were busily loading the final items into Dragon’s pressurized section during Thursday.
(Images: via NASA, SpaceX, L2’s SpaceX Dragon Mission Special Section and L2 renders by Nathan Koga. The full gallery of Nathan’s (SpaceX Dragon to MCT, SLS, Commercial Crew and more) L2 images can be *found here*))
Update: 21.30 MESZ
SpaceX Dragon Splashes Down with Crucial NASA Research Samples
SpaceX's Dragon cargo spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 11:47 a.m. EDT Friday, Aug. 26, southwest of Baja California with more than 3,000 pounds of NASA cargo, science and technology demonstration samples from the International Space Station.
The Dragon spacecraft will be taken by ship to a port near Los Angeles, where some cargo will be removed and returned to NASA immediately. Dragon then will be prepared for a return trip to SpaceX's test facility in McGregor, Texas, for processing.
When it arrived at the station July 20, Dragon delivered the first of two international docking adapters (IDAs) in its external cargo hold, or “trunk.” The IDAs will be used by commercial spacecraft now in development for transporting astronauts to the station as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. The initial adapter was installed during an Aug. 19 spacewalk by Expedition 48 Commander Jeff Williams and Flight Engineer Kate Rubins of NASA. The second adapter is being built and will be delivered on a future Dragon cargo resupply mission.
Among the experiment samples returning Friday are those from the Heart Cells study, which is looking at how microgravity affects human heart cells. The U.S. National Laboratory investigation is studying how microgravity changes the human heart, and how those changes vary between individuals. Deep space missions including the journey to Mars will require long periods of space travel, which creates increased risk of health problems such as muscle atrophy, including possible atrophy of the heart muscle. Heart cells cultured aboard the space station for one month will be analyzed for cellular and molecular changes. Results could advance the study of heart disease and the development of drugs and cell replacement therapy.
Samples will also be returned from two rodent-based investigations, the Mouse Epigenetics and Rodent Research-3-Eli Lillyexperiments. The mouse model is useful for showing how much shorter stays by mice in the low-Earth environment can be used to infer how similar conditions may affect future human exploration.
In Mouse Epigenetics, researchers are exploring altered gene expression and DNA by tracking changes in the organs of male mice that spend one month in space, and examining changes in the DNA of their offspring. In Rodent Research-3-Eli Lilly, scientists are looking at rapid loss of bone and muscle mass in the legs and spine, and comparing it to what is experienced by people with muscle wasting diseases or with limited mobility on Earth and testing an antibody known to prevent muscle wasting in mice on Earth. This U.S. National Laboratory experiment is sponsored by pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Co. and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space.
Also returning are samples from the Multi-Omics experiment. This research is analyzing the composition of microbes in the human digestive system and how they may affect the human immune system. Researchers may be able to identify bacterial or metabolic biomarkers that could be useful for astronaut health management, and therefore future human exploration of the solar system.
Dragon is currently the only space station resupply spacecraft able to return a significant amount of cargo to Earth. The spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida July 18 carrying almost 5,000 pounds of supplies and scientific cargo on the company’s ninth commercial resupply mission to the station.
The International Space Station is a convergence of science, technology and human innovation that demonstrates new technologies and makes research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. The space station has been occupied continuously since November 2000. In that time, more than 200 people and a variety of international and commercial spacecraft have visited the orbiting laboratory. The space station remains the springboard to NASA's next great leap in human space exploration, including the journey to Mars.
Splashdown! SpaceX Dragon Capsule Returns to Earth from Space Statio
SpaceX's Dragon cargo spacecraft has safely splashed down in the Pacific Ocean off of Baja California, Mexico. The vessel returned to Earth with more than 3,000 lbs. (1,360 kilograms) of cargo and science experiments, including 12 mice.
The crewless spacecraft was released from the International Space Stationearlier this morning by NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi using the station's robotic arm. The spacecraft returned to Earth at 11:47 a.m. EDT (1547 GMT) today (Aug. 26), NASA officials said in a statement.
"Good splashdown of Dragon confirmed, carrying thousands of pounds of @NASA science and research cargo back from the @Space_Station," SpaceX officials tweeted.
Space station astronauts packed the capsule with NASA cargo, equipment and research samples making the journey home. After a successful landing in the Pacific Ocean, the spacecraft was retrieved by SpaceX employees and taken by ship to a port near Los Angeles, where some of the cargo was removed to be sent to NASA.
The Dragon space capsule arrived at the space station July 20 carrying experiments, science equipment, tools and supplies for the space station crew. Dragon also delivered a very important piece of hardware: the first of two international docking adapters (IDAs), which will let future spacecraft dock directly with the U.S. segment of the space station.
Among the science materials that returned to Earth in the capsule are 12 mice kept on the space station for 30 days. Now that the animals have returned, researchers plan to analyze DNA from the mice's organs, as well as DNA of the spacefaring animals' offspring. The results of this study will help researchers better understand the effects of microgravity on DNA expression.
Astronauts on the space station had a busy week preparing the Dragon space capsule for its return to Earth, and their work is far from over.
Thursday (Sept. 1), Rubins and Expedition 48 Commander Jeff Williams will head out on another spacewalk to retract a thermal-control radiator that is no longer operable and to install at least one high-definition camera onto the station's exterior. Retracting the radiator will help protect it from space debris and preserve it as a spare for the station, NASA officials said in a briefing.
Williams, who recently set a new American record for most days in space, will return home Sept. 6 with Russian cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin.