Astronauts aboard the International Space Station released the SpaceX Dragon CRS-2 supply capsule for its descent to Earth as scheduled early Tuesday.
Canada's robot arm poised for release of Dragon on Tuesday. Photo Credit: NASA TV.
A small fleet of SpaceX recovery vessels has assembled in the Pacific Ocean for Dragon’s splashdown under parachute anticipated for 12:35 p.m., EDT, about 214 miles west of Baja, Calif.
NASA’s Mission Control, using the station’s 58-foot-long Canadian-built robot arm hoisted the capsule with its return cargo of nearly 2,700 pounds of scientific gear and equipment no longer needed from its berth on the U.S. segment Harmony module at 4:10 a.m. NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn and ISS commander Chris Hadfield, of the Canadian Space Agency, then took over robot arm operations for the release of Dragon with its return cargo at 6:56 a.m.
NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, foreground, and ISS commander Chris Hadfield, of Canada, at the control console for the robot arm release of Dragon in the ISS Cupola. Photo Credit: NASA TV
"Looks both beautiful and nominal from here," Marshburn informed NASA's Mission Control from his robot arm operator's post in the station's Cupola observation deck. The release occurred south of Australia at an altitude of 250 miles.
Three departure maneuvers safely separated Dragon from the station. The unpiloted capsule is expected to execute a braking maneuver at 11:42 a.m., starting its plummet to Earth.
Rough seas prevented Dragon’s scheduled return on Monday, conditions that improved as the delayed re-entry approached.
The SpaceX recovery fleet anticipates a 30-hour voyage to the Port of Los Angeles, where the highest priority cargoes – primarily preserved medical specimens and other research gear – will be removed and flown to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston for distribution to scientists.
The reusable capsule will be transported to a SpaceX rocket test facility in McGregor, Texas for further processing.
Launched March 1 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, the Dragon CRS-2 capsule overcame an early difficulty with the thrusters required for the rendezvous maneuvers. The final rendezvous maneuvers and robot arm capture at the ISS unfolded on March 3, a day later than planned.
SpaceX is carrying out the second flight of a $1.6 billion, 12-mission NASA Commercial Resupply Services contract awarded in late 2008. The third mission is tentatively scheduled for a late September launch. The first unfolded in October 2012.