Late Monday, SpaceX brought back Dragon Endeavour from its six-month stay at the International Space Station. Onboard were SpaceX’s Crew-2 astronauts Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, Akihiko Hoshide, and Thomas Pesquet.
Monday afternoon, the journey started when the four Crew-2 astronauts put on their SpaceX flight suits and boarded Dragon Endeavour. At about 2:05 p.m. EST, the Dragon undocked from the International Space Station and began its eight-hour journey back home.
After undocking, Dragon Endeavour completed a Fly Around of the ISS. Fly Arounds have been done by previous spacecrafts, including the Space Shuttle, but this was a first for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. This gave NASA great views of the station, allowing Pesquet to leave his seat and take photos of the station from angles not seen very often.
Crew-2 departing the space station
After completing its Fly Around, Endeavour completed several departure burns, moving the spacecraft further away from the ISS. These burns slowed the Dragon down and put Endeavour into a lower orbit than the space station. This means the capsule actually started to move ahead of the ISS in its orbit.
Once far enough away from the station and lined up with their landing zone near Pensacola, Florida, Endeavour jettisoned its trunk and began its deorbit burn. This 16-minute burn lowered Endeavour’s orbit enough to start its fall into the atmosphere.
Following a short expected communications blackout, nominal drogue and main parachutes were deployed by Dragon to finish slowing the capsule down before splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico. During deployment of the main parachutes, one was slow to deploy fully, but by design, Crew Dragon can safely splash down with only three parachutes.
SpaceX took about 20 minutes to rig Dragon Endeavour for lifting onto the company’s recovery ship GO Navigator. Once onboard the ship, SpaceX personnel removed all four crew members from the spacecraft and got them into initial medical checkouts.
The Crew-2 astronauts were flown via helicopter to land and sent to their agency’s respective centers for final evaluations.
Crew-3 launch this week to replace returned crew
Originally planned to take place before Crew-2’s return, SpaceX’s Crew-3 mission is set to launch Wednesday evening. They will launch on a brand new Dragon spacecraft to the ISS and return the crew size to seven.
Featured Image: Daryl Sausse’ / Space Explored