[UPDATE: Dragon splashdown] SpaceX Crago Dragon set to return from the International Space Station

The Dragon that flew the CRS-22 mission to the International Space Station is set to return to earth over the next few days. However, Tropical Storm Elsa has proven problematic. Undocking is currently scheduled for July 7th.

Update: SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico just before midnight (11:32 p.m.EDT) on Friday.

UPDATE: Undocking occurred around 10:45 AM EDT on July 8th. Splashdown is currently expected to occur around 10 PM EDT on the 9th off the coast of Tallahassee, FL.

This Dragon capsule launched on June 3rd and arrived at the station about 16 hours after. Along with carrying supplies and research materials, the new solar panels were also delivered. Now that the Dragon has served its function as a delivery vehicle to the station, it will now serve as a return vehicle for experiments. Dragon is currently the only capsule that is capable of returning experiments to researchers back here on earth.

The following is just a selection of experiments to return on this Dragon capsule:

  • Lyophilization-2 examines how gravity affects freeze-dried materials and could result in improved freeze-drying processes for pharmaceutical and other industries. Freeze-drying also has potential use for long-term storage of medications and other resources on future exploration missions.
  • Molecular Muscle Experiment-2 tests a series of drugs to see whether they can improve health in space, possibly leading to new therapeutic targets for examination on Earth.
  • Oral Biofilms in Space studies how gravity affects the structure, composition, and activity of oral bacteria in the presence of common oral care agents. Findings could support development of novel treatments to fight oral diseases such as cavities, gingivitis, and periodontitis.

Experiment Descriptions provided by NASA

Dragon Reentry and Recovery

Unlike the first version of the Cargo Dragon capsule, the V2 Cargo Dragon capsule is recovered either in the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Florida in both cases. SpaceX utilizes two sister ships, GO Navigator and GO Searcher, to recover the Crew and Cargo Dragon capsules.

GO Navigator and GO Searcher in Port Canaveral (July 2020) | Image Credit: Jared-Base

GO Navigator has recovered most of the dragons returning from space thus far, but GO Searcher will get another opportunity this time. Navigator had to relocate from Port Tampa Bay due to Tropical Storm Elsa. Undocking from the station is expected to occur around 11 AM EDT on July 7th, but a reentry date has not been established yet.

Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) have been filed with the FAA over Dragon recovery sites with times that correspond to ~9 AM EDT splashdowns on the 8th.

Map showing TFRs for Dragon Recovery sites | Image Credit: Federal Aviation Administration

These recovery locations include Tallahassee, Tampa, Cape Canaveral, Daytona Beach, and Jacksonville. TFRs exist for all these locations to provide flexibility with splashdown sites, given Tropical Storm Elsa’s potentially erratic track. NASA initially stated that splashdown would be in the Atlantic Ocean on the 8th, but it is not known if this will stick.

This will leave just one Dragon capsule at that station, Crew-2. They are expected to return in October 2021, but this is subject to change. CRS-23 is expected to launch in August 2021, which would leave 2 Dragon capsules at the station for a limited time again. Between now and CRS-23 Boeing’s Starliner capsule has an opening to conduct its Orbital Flight Test 2 mission, its launch date is set for July 30th.

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