A little over a month after it left Kennedy Space Center loaded with cargo and science experiments, an upgraded SpaceX Cargo Dragon capsule is slated to return to Earth via ocean splashdown Monday night.
This will be the first return of a cargo resupply spacecraft to the Atlantic Ocean.
The location of splashdown will be chosen closer to undocking from the International Space Station on Monday morning, but potential sites in the Atlantic are off the coasts of Cape Canaveral, Daytona, and Jacksonville. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely bystanders will be able to see anything.
“When it’s entering Earth’s atmosphere that’s hundreds of miles away so by the time it gets near us it’s already on the parachutes and there’s nothing to see. The flames are gone by then,” said local space photographer Ken Kremer. “It has to be within a few miles offshore in the daylight to actually see the splashdown.”
Splashing down off the coast of Florida enables quick transportation of the science aboard the capsule to Kennedy Space Center’s Space Station Processing Facility for faster processing.
NASA astronaut Kate Rubins will monitor the Dragon capsule undocking from the ISS Monday morning at 9:25 a.m. NASA will broadcast the departure on its website beginning at 9 a.m.
Dragon will fire its thrusters to move a safe distance from the station and then initiate a de-orbit burn to begin the re-entry sequence into Earth’s atmosphere.
NASA expects the spacecraft assisted by three parachutes will splash down around 9 p.m. Eastern time. SpaceX technicians will be on hand to retrieve the spacecraft and return it to Cape Canaveral.
Back at the space station, the crew onboard is preparing for upcoming spacewalks planned for Jan. 19 and 25. Commander Mike Hopkins and pilot Victor Glover, who both flew aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon in November, will conduct both spacewalks. Among their tasks include updating high definition video and camera equipment.
Quelle: Florida Today
SpaceX’s upgraded Cargo Dragon gears up for first reentry and splashdown
SpaceX’s upgraded Cargo Dragon spacecraft is just a day or two away from its first International Space Station (ISS) departure, Earth reentry, and ocean splashdown.
The uncrewed Dragon capsule (known as C208) and its expendable trunk section are currently scheduled to depart from the ISS no earlier than the morning (EST) of January 12th – set to be the first time an uncrewed US cargo spacecraft autonomously undocks from the orbital outpost. Previous US cargo vehicles – including SpaceX’s own Cargo Dragon – have relied on berthing, rendezvousing with the ISS and hovering close by while a giant robotic arm was used to capture and secure each spacecraft.
Cargo Dragon 2 wont be the first outright to do so: the uncrewed European ATV and Russian Progress vehicles both used the Russian Docking System (RDS) to deliver cargo to the ISS over the last two decades. However, Dragon’s CRS-21 departure will be the first time an uncrewed cargo spacecraft completes a full mission with the help of NASA’s new International Docking Adapter (IDA), as well as an IDA’s third round-trip use ever.
As early as Tuesday, January 12th, Cargo Dragon capsule C208 is scheduled to reenter Earth’s atmosphere and splash down in the ocean for the first time. (NASA)
In fact, SpaceX is solely responsible for the four total uses of the Space Station’s twin IDA ports – both fittingly delivered by Cargo Dragons in 2016 and 2019. In March 2019, Crew Dragon – flying without astronauts on its Demo-1 mission – became the first spacecraft ever to autonomously dock with and undock from an IDA port. In May and August 2020, a separate Crew Dragon spacecraft repeated the feat, autonomously docking and undocking with two NASA astronauts onboard.
SpaceX’s Demo-1 Crew Dragon became the first spacecraft to successfully use NASA’s International Docking Adapter in March 2019. (Oleg Kononenko)
Crew Dragon C206 became the second to dock with IDA – and the first with astronauts aboard – around 14 months later. (NASA)
Crew Dragon C207 (right) became the third in November 2020, followed by Cargo Dragon C208 (left) less than a month later. (NASA)
In November 2020, SpaceX launched Crew Dragon on its first operational ferry mission with four astronauts. The spacecraft safely docked to the ISS and is scheduled to remain there until at least March or April 2021. Most recently, SpaceX launched its first Cargo Dragon 2 on December 6th, 2020, and the spacecraft docked without issue a day later. Now scheduled to undock as early as January 12th, a successful departure, reentry, and splashdown will truly mark the start of a new era of autonomous SpaceX spacecraft.
Cargo Dragon 1 spacecraft were manually captured and berthed by ISS astronauts with Canadarm2. (NASA)
Unlike the largely manual berthing method used by Japanese HTV, Orbital ATK Cygnus, and SpaceX Cargo Dragon spacecraft, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Cargo Dragon 2 vehicles took advantage of IDA’s mechanical differences to heavily automate the cargo and crew delivery process. Using LiDAR, cameras, complex software, SpaceX’s new Dragons effectively dock themselves, ultimately requiring less training and work for the station astronauts that would otherwise need to manually support berthing operations.
Used to support refrigerated or otherwise power-intensive cargo, Cargo Dragon 2 features twice as many “powered lockers” as its predecessor and is scheduled to return an impressive ~2360 kg (5200 lb) of cargo – including dozens of science experiments – to Earth. More than a decade after Dragon became the first private spacecraft to successfully reenter Earth’s atmosphere, Cargo Dragon is still the only spacecraft in the world capable of delivering substantial cargo from Earth to orbit and from orbit to Earth.
An artist’s rendering of a Crew Dragon capsule reentering Earth’s atmosphere. (SpaceX)
After detaching from its expendable trunk section and reentering Earth’s atmosphere, Cargo Dragon C208 will also become the first cargo spacecraft to splash down in the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico thanks to SpaceX’s decision to consolidate its California and Florida Dragon recovery operations on the East Coast.
Also used to recover Crew Dragons, SpaceX ship GO Searcher departed Port Canaveral for its central role in CRS-21’s imminent splashdown. Once Cargo Dragon C208 splashes down at one of four available recovery zones, SpaceX recovery teams will grab and secure the spacecraft and open its hatch. Uniquely time-sensitive cargo can then be transferred to a waiting helicopter for an unprecedentedly rapid return to researchers back on land,
Stay tuned for SpaceX and NASA’s live coverage of Cargo Dragon 2’s first ISS departure and recovery on January 12th or 13th.