SpaceX’s Dragon capsule made history this week when it became the first commercial space vehicle to dock with the International Space Station and now the capsule has been released from the station as it prepared for its re-entry and splashdown off the Baja California peninsula.
The process of unhitching the capsule from the ISS involved grabbing the unit with a robotic arm while four gangs of motorized bolts that were holding the capsule in place were driven out.
After flight engineer Joseph Acaba used the ISS‘ on board computers to move the capsule far away from the station he then released the Dragon capsule.
Once released it took the Dragon capsule approximately 11 minutes to fall outside of a pre-defined “safety zone” from the space station at which point SpaceX assumed full responsibility for the remainder of the mission.
NASA Flight Director Holly Riding tells Cnet:
“The departure sequence is fairly quick, it’s a three-burn series, two small burns then one big burn. The Dragon will head away from the space station outside the integrated space and that’ll be the end of our integrated activity with the SpaceX/Dragon team. That process is 10 or 11 minutes after the release time.”
“So again, very quick, very different from rendezvous day when we spent a lot of time in integrated space. The Dragon will head on out and be on its own in terms of the Dragon team controlling and managing the rest of the activities through the day.”
In the meantime the Dragon capsule is expected to touch down in the Pacific Ocean where recovery crews are already standing by to snag the capsule and return it to SpaceX’s facility in Los Angeles where it will be post-flight processed. The splashdown zone is located approximately 575 miles southwest of southern California.
The Dragon Capsule’s first trip to the International Space Station involved carrying low-priority supplies and equipment including gear weighing 1,100 pounds.
Re-entry of a spacecraft is something SpaceX is familiar with, having successfully completed a re-entry maneuver during a test flight in 2010.