Updated: Mar 13, 2019
Late in the evening on Saturday March 9th, many spectators and members of the media converged at Port Canaveral in Brevard County, Florida to witness SpaceX’s first ever Crew Dragon capsule return. Following a history making launch and a 5 day stay docked to the International Space Station (ISS), the Crew Dragon capsule departed the ISS and returned to Earth for a splashdown landing in the Atlantic Ocean.
The Crew Dragon capsule is SpaceX’s first human rated spacecraft. The capsule launched atop of a Falcon 9 booster, which also returned for a landing in the Atlantic Ocean, for the first time at 2:49am, Saturday, March 2nd. The capsule then autonomously docked with the ISS approximately 27 hours later and delivered about 400 lbs of cargo. The undocking procedures and successful landing were the only remaining close out objectives for Crew Dragon’s Demonstration Mission 1 (DM-1) as a part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
As expected, Crew Dragon performed a nominal autonomous undocking sequence from the ISS and began a re-entry trajectory that would bring it home for the first time. Following an approximate 6 hour journey, Crew Dragon dispersed of it’s unpressurized trunk, secured its nose cone, and re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere to put it’s heat shield through the paces. It was tracked during re-entry by one of NASA’s high altitude research aircraft, the WB-57, as viewed in the highlights video below provided by NASA. A 15 minute re-entry burn was followed by drogue chute deployment then 4 large primary chutes. Crew Dragon landed right on time at 8:45 a.m. local time.
SpaceX’s recovery team was ready at the landing zone to bring Crew Dragon home. The team worked quickly to meet a 60 minute recovery goal that was set forth by NASA in order to qualify Crew Dragon for human participants on future flights. Recovery efforts seemingly went smoothly and Crew Dragon was secured on ship within 67 minutes of splashdown.
Recovery teams then embarked on an approximate 33 hour trip back to Port Canaveral arriving around 9:20 p.m. March 9th. Arrival images featured on NASA's Kennedy Space Center Official Flickr account can be seen below.
Following the successful completion of DM-1, NASA officials participated in a post landing briefing in which it was stated that there have been no indications that a following Demonstration Mission 2 (DM-2) that will support U.S. astronauts to the ISS, would not be occurring later this year. Currently, the returned Crew Dragon capsule and its anthropomorphic test device, Ripley, are undergoing extensive data reviews and eventual refurbishment.
It is expected that this same capsule, and possibly Ripley, will once again launch atop of a Falcon 9 booster in the coming months. SpaceX will have to demonstrate that the Crew Dragon capsule is able to perform a high altitude abort sequence utilizing it’s on-board SuperDraco thrusters. This will serve as proof to NASA that all SpaceX systems are capable of preserving human life should an anomaly occur during launch. According to company CEO, Elon Musk, this test is tentatively set for launch in April.