The SpaceX Dragon Commercial Resupply Services (CRS)-3 mission came to a successful conclusion Sunday, May 18, when the capsule hurtled back to Earth and splashed down approximately 300 miles west of Baja, Calif., at 3:05 p.m. EDT (1905 GMT). The spacecraft returned home with over 3,500 pounds of cargo, including a freezer loaded with science experiments performed on the International Space Station (ISS).
The ship began its trip home from the ISS at 9:26 a.m. (1326 GMT) when it was released from the orbital outpost, where it had been berthed since Sunday, April 20. ISS Commander and U.S. astronaut Steve Swanson gave the command to release the spacecraft, while RSA cosmonaut and ISS flight engineer Aleksandr Skvortsov assisted in monitoring.
This Dragon’s trip began with its launch aboard a Falcon 9v1.1 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s (CCAFS) Launch Complex 40 on Friday, April 18. The ship delivered approximately 5,000 pounds of primary cargo to the ISS, including the recently commissioned High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) cameras, legs for Robonaut 2, VEGGIE (a vegetable production system, devised to improve upon the development of plants in space), and other experiments and equipment.
In addition, five CubeSats were released as secondary payloads when the spacecraft separated from its second stage.
The experiments returned with the capsule are meant to further improve life for space travelers during long-duration missions. The T-Cell Activation in Aging Experiment, launched into space on Dragon, investigated possible origins into immune system depression experienced by astronauts on orbit. This experiment was designed to help scientists and researchers aid astronauts and space travelers in preventing illness during space missions; it may also result in improved antibiotic effectiveness for patients on Earth.
Now that Dragon has made its fiery return, the spacecraft will be delivered to SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas, for processing. The freezer and other cargo will be delivered to NASA within 48 hours. NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, William Gerstenmaier, underscored the essential nature of the science investigations undertaken aboard the ISS and returned to Earth aboard Dragon, the only cargo ship currently able to return large amounts of cargo back to our home planet.
“The space station is our springboard to deep space, and the science samples returned to Earth are critical to improving our knowledge of how space affects humans who live and work there for long durations. Now that Dragon has returned, scientists can complete their analyses, so we can see how results may impact future human space exploration, or provide direct benefits to people on Earth,” he related.
The CRS-3 mission was the third of 12 scheduled cargo resupply trips SpaceX intends to make to the ISS through 2016 as part of its Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA. SpaceX’s next launch, Falcon 9v1.1/Orbcomm OG2, is scheduled to take place at CCAFS’ Launch Complex 40 on Tuesday, May 27; this mission is intended to lift six Orbcomm communications satellites into orbit. The next cargo mission, CRS-4, is currently scheduled to launch from CCAFS in early August.