SpaceX Capsule Carrying NASA Astronauts Heading Home For Ocean Splashdown
US astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are headed back to Earth after the SpaceX Dragon Endeavour capsule successfully undocked from the International Space Station.
The two NASA astronauts are scheduled to splashdown off the coast of Florida today, August 2, just after 14:45 EDT (19:45 BST). If successful, it will be the first splashdown return from space in 45 years.
Their departure from the International Space Station was announced by SpaceX earlier today, with the aerospace company tweeting: ‘Separation confirmed. Dragon performing four departure burns to move away from the Space Station.’
The spacecraft left Earth from Florida more than two months ago on May 30 after Elon Musk’s aerospace company SpaceX teamed up with NASA. The initial launch was postponed on May 27 due to bad weather.
The Demo-2 mission saw experienced NASA astronauts Behnken, 50, and Hurley, 53, flying into space in a historic way – with the Falcon 9 being the first manned space flight to leave US soil in nine years.
It was also SpaceX’s first-ever human flight, something made even more momentous as the rocket was the first private space flight to head to the International Space Station.
If the landing is successful, it will pave the way for future commercial partnerships and a new age of space travel, and will mean America will once again have a fully serviceable, fully certified means of getting people into orbit and back after the country retired its shuttles in 2011.
While there is the potential threat of Hurricane Isaias disrupting the landing, as the hurricane is edging closer to their landing destination on the south Florida coast, NASA and SpaceX chose a splashdown location well away from its expected target.
Waiting recovery vessels are subsequently being directed to the Gulf of Mexico, to waters off Pensacola in western Florida, with mission controllers following strict guidelines on permissible wind and wave conditions.
These mission controllers will study the latest forecasts before giving a final go-ahead for re-entry. If this happens, Hurley and Behnken’s capsule will begin its drop out of orbit.
On entering the Earth’s atmosphere, the Crew Dragon will face temperatures of up to 2,000C during its high-speed descent – initially at several kilometres per second.
It will then deploy two sets of parachutes – a drogue system at around 18,000 feet in altitude – before deploying four main chutes at 5,900 feet to slow its speed down as it approaches the ocean.
There will then be a few minutes of radio silence as hot gases temporarily envelop the spacecraft.
If completed successfully, NASA will move forward with routine, ‘operational’ SpaceX flights, maybe even as early as the end of September.
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