Published: Wed, January 16, 2019
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SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft to reach Earth Monday

SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft to reach Earth Monday

SpaceX has been working to fill NASA's need for a crew-capable ship that it can launch on its own terms without relying on Russia's Soyuz rockets, but the company has been hit with several setbacks that pushed back its delivery timeline. Robotics controllers remotely commanded the Canadarm2 robotic arm to let go of the US space freighter sending it on a solo trajectory back to Earth. The Dragon spacecraft will make its fiery descent into the Earth's atmosphere and then parachute into the Pacific Ocean.

With Dragon departing, there are still four spacecraft attached to the space station, including a Cygnus cargo craft made by Northrop Grumman. Integrated operations between mission controllers in Houston and SpaceX controllers in California stop when Dragon reaches a point about 1 km away from the station.

This will be the first night-time splashdown and recovery for the Dragon with plenty of moonlight to track its entry, NASA said.

The Dragon brought home with it several "critical space research" that will be picked up and "distributed to scientists across the nation". Station hardware will also be extracted for analysis, refurbishment or discarding. "Dragon's hatch will be closed Sunday morning, and the spacecraft will be detached from the Harmony module around 3 p.m. EST Sunday".

It launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's launch complex 40 atop a Falcon 9 on December 5 and arrived to the ISS on December 8 with 5,800 pounds of supplies. SpaceX's Demo-1 flight will be the maiden flight of a new spacecraft known as Crew Dragon, but no astronauts will be on board.

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