In yet another achievement for SpaceX, the Dragon capsule has returned back safely to Earth following its second successful mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The capsule made a soft landing in the Pacific Ocean, southwest of Los Angeles.
The Dragon from SpaceX is unique in the sense that it is the only working spacecraft in the world that has the ability to carry cargo both into space and back to Earth.
And it is the Dragon’s ability to successfully survive atmospheric re-entry with very delicate cargo, like biological samples, that impressed NASA. As a result, the organization is using SpaceX to bring life science experiments back to Earth. The Dragon capsule is even capable of carrying live creatures from the ISS to Earth, which allows scientists aboard the space station to conduct more detailed biological experiments.
The Dragon’s latest mission involved a two-way journey in which the capsule stayed with the ISS for about a month before making the return trip. It was launched into space on June 29 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and docked with the ISS on July 2. It was carrying close to 6,000 pounds of cargo, which included things like space gloves, smoked salmon, and an iPad.
The cargo also contained tools and equipment that would assist the researchers at the ISS in conducting over 27 experiments. For its return, the capsule contained roughly 3,800 pounds of cargo, most of which was the result of the experiments being conducted onboard the ISS.
A drawback with the Dragon capsule has been the fact that its trunk almost always burns up while reentering the atmosphere. For this specific mission, a tool was attached to the trunk to study Earth’s atmospheric structure so that the scientists at SpaceX could figure out a way to prevent the trunk from getting burned during future missions. The Dragon capsule is typically marked as fit for use for two to three missions.
Though the Dragon only holds non-human cargo at present, SpaceX envisions it eventually carrying human beings. The company had showcased a crewed version of the Dragon as early as 2014, much to the delight of its supporters.
“Dragon was designed from the beginning to carry humans, and the upgraded vehicle revealed today will be one of the safest, most reliable spacecraft ever flown. The vehicle holds seats for 7 passengers, and includes an Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) that provides a comfortable environment for crewmembers,”, SpaceX had said in an article on their official website.
The crewed version is being developed specifically for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Both organizations are betting on the Dragon to help overcome crew limitations at the ISS. As of now, the space station can only hold a maximum of six people. And given that the Dragon spacecraft can hold seven astronauts, SpaceX might will play a major role in the growth of space exploration in the next few decades.
SpaceX and NASA plan to conduct an uncrewed test flight of the human version of Dragon sometime in November 2018. NASA has also announced that crewed test flights would be conducted by April 2019. And if these tests also turn out to be a success, a real crewed mission should take place over the subsequent years.