SpaceX Dragon on its way home

2012-05-31 13:08
The SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft is grappled by the Canadarm2 robotic arm at the International Space Station. (Nasa, AP)

The SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft is grappled by the Canadarm2 robotic arm at the International Space Station. (Nasa, AP)

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Washington - US company SpaceX's Dragon cargo capsule was successfully detached from the International Space Station early on Thursday at the start of its return to Earth after a landmark mission, Nasa said.

"Dragon has officially been demated from the International Space Station. The crew has removed all of the bolts and lashes," a spokesperson said on Nasa TV.

The cargo vessel will now be guided away from the orbiting research outpost by a robotic arm, which released it into space, and powerful thrusters will took over to send it back to Earth.

It should then trace a fiery path through the atmosphere before splashing down intact in the Pacific Ocean off California at 14:44 GMT, completing a mission heralded as a major step toward the commercialisation of spaceflight.

The cargo ship was launched on 22 May with 521kg of gear for the space lab, including food, supplies, computers, utilities and science experiments. It plans to return a 660kg load to Earth.

On 25 May, the Dragon became the first privately owned spacecraft to berth with the ISS.

If Thursday's re-entry succeeds, Dragon will be the only cargo capsule capable of return shipments to Earth, as the cargo craft operated by other countries are destroyed after making deliveries to the station, Nasa said.

The US retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011, leaving cargo missions up to the space agencies of Russia, Japan and Europe.

Until private US ventures come up with a replacement vehicle that can carry humans to the $100bn orbiting lab, the world's astronauts must rely on Russia's Soyuz capsules, at $63m a ticket.

SpaceX, owned by billionaire internet entrepreneur Elon Musk, says it aims to begin taking people to the space station by 2015.
Read more on:    spacex  |  space

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