Dragon resupply module splashes down in the Pacific Ocean, completing Space X’s first commercial mission as a supply contractor for NASA, ushering in a new era of spaceflight.
Last Sunday saw a significant milestone in the history of spaceflight – the first successful space mission by a private company at all levels – launch, spaceflight and recovery. Under contract to NASA, the Dragon capsule completed the first of twelve Commercial Resupply Services missions with nary a hitch – taking supplies to the International Space Station and returning to Earth with a mixture of NASA experiments and equipment on rotation.
The night time launch on October 7th was a fantastic sight to behold, launching Dragon aboard a Space X Falcon 9 rocket. Things got a bit wobbly when the secondary payload (an Orbcomm satellite) on the rocket failed to get into the right orbit – later burning up in the atmosphere – but the Dragon capsule managed to successfully dock with the ISS ahead of schedule.
Last week, Dragon decoupled from the ISS and completed a 10-minute deorbit burn before splashing down about 250 miles off the coast of California. It was successfully recovered and taken to Los Angeles where critical NASA experiments were offloaded – the GLACIER freezer, packed with biological samples from experiments conducted in microgravity. The module is now at Space X’s facility in McGregor, Texas, where the rest of the cargo will be offloaded and capsule readied for its next flight, scheduled for no later than January 2013.
Space X is arguably the most successful out of the companies involved in NASA’s Commercial Crew Development program. With this mission completed successfully they have established themselves as the company to beat – but that will be no easy task as they are miles ahead of the competition. All of the other companies selected for second-and-third round funding have yet to put a test vehicle into space.