Last February, private aerospace builder and space transport company SpaceX launched their Dragon space capsule aboard their workhorse Falcon 9 rocket for a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS). This launch was done on Florida’s Cape Canaveral, on the same Launchpad that launched the manned Apollo missions and ultimately the last space shuttle mission. It proved the Falcon 9’s selling point as a reusable rocket launch platform after its jettisoned first stage vertically landed safely on its “feet” in broad daylight on a Canaveral landing pad. The Dragon capsule meanwhile reached the ISS without incident to deliver its payload (5,500 pounds worth of stuff) to the resident astronaut crew. Now word has come out that the Dragon has splashed down into the ocean, making the overall mission a resounding success.
According to USA Today, the SpaceX Dragon capsule began its earthward journey early Sunday March 19, laden with scientific research cargo from the ISS crew. After detaching from the space station, the unmanned space vehicle executed three departure thruster burns to send it on a safe re-entry angle into the Earth’s atmosphere. French astronaut Thomas Pesquet kept ground control and social media updated on the Dragon’s progress, tweeting upon its return journey with: “Today we said good bye to the #Dragon! She is taking part of us back to the ground with her – important scientific samples, some from the crew!”
By Sunday at noontime the Dragon has splashed down on the ocean, with SpaceX posting a photo of the parachuting capsule about to land on the water, and reporting that they have sent recovery teams to pick it up. Pesquet, who is on a six-month mission at the ISS, replied in awe at how quickly the Dragon got back after they bid it farewell from the station earlier that day.
The return of the SpaceX Dragon capsule after a long journey was but one of the many space missions taking place over the weekend. The evening of Saturday March 18 saw the launch of a military communications satellite, the Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) which will form part of the US Department of Defense space communications network, facilitating tactical communications, transmission of drone footage and secure lines between military commanders.
This launch was done off a Delta IV rocket which was also branded with the US Air Force 70th Anniversary logo “Breaking Barriers”. The Delta IV is an expendable rocket platform from the United Launch Alliance, a joint partnership between Lockheed Martin and Boeing to provide space launch services to the government. It’s nothing like the reusable SpaceX vehicles, but proof positive that private space companies are going strong.