(CNS) – Nearly a week after making history by becoming the first private spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station, a capsule built by a Hawthorne-based aerospace company returned to Earth today, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean a few hundred miles off the Southland Coast.
NASA said Dragon returned at 8:42 a.m. California time, “marking a successful end to the first mission by a commercial company to resupply the International Space Station.”
Dragon — built by Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX — docked with the space station Friday, and astronauts aboard the station spent the past few days unloading 1,014 pounds of cargo carried by the ship during its demonstration flight.
The vehicle was unberthed from the station at 1:07 a.m. California time today, according to NASA. Dragon was then released from the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm at 2:49 a.m. and executed a series of burns and maneuvers to move beyond the station’s 656-foot “keep out sphere” before beginning its journey back to Earth, NASA reported.
SpaceX mission controllers then ran the craft through several hours of orbital maneuvers, and shortly before 8 a.m. they initiated a “de-orbit burn” to bring Dragon back into the Earth’s atmosphere. And at 8:42 a.m. — two minutes ahead of schedule — the craft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, where it was to be retrieved by a vessel.
Dragon’s mission, which began May 22 with a blast-off from Cape Canaveral in Florida, is part of a first-of-its-kind partnership between NASA and SpaceX to transport cargo to and from the stellar outpost during the post- space shuttle era.
SpaceX conducted a test flight in December 2010, when the company became the first commercial firm to send a spacecraft into low-Earth orbit and recover it successfully.
SpaceX will now begin what is expected to be more than a dozen flights to the station. SpaceX executives said the Dragon craft is also designed to carry astronauts, but only cargo missions are planned for now.
The company’s CEO, chief technology officer and co-founder is 40-year- old South African-born engineer and entrepreneur Elon Musk, who also co-founded Tesla Motors, which manufactures all-electric sports cars, and what later became PayPal.