CRS-22 Dragon capsule on deck after splashdown. Photo by : SpaceX
July 9th 2021
Things seem to be turning into a Disney movie here in Florida. There is a Tropical Storm named Elsa moving up the West coast and across the state and a Dragon looming in in the skies overhead. That’s exactly what is happening though, the SpaceX Dragon Capsule from the twenty-second Commercial Resupply Services mission has splashed down after being docked at the ISS (International Space Station) Since June 5th of this year.
When the Dragon launched from Launch Complex 39A last month it held all together 3328kgs of supplies, research, and equipment, when it returns it will be carrying 2404kgs of cargo, including freeze dried oral health research experiments. Most capsules that don’t carry crews to and from the Space Station burn up upon reentry. Like the Cygnus Spacecraft from Northrop Grumman, it is loaded with trash so it makes for a convenient disposal system as the Earths atmosphere burns everything up on its descent. The SpaceX Dragon capsule, named after none other than the Disney Classic “Pete’s Dragon” stays on par with the company known for its reusability since their cargo capsule has the ability to launch into orbit and return intact bringing valuable materials back down after the astronauts are through experimenting with them.
With Elsa going back and forth from Tropical Storm to Hurricane it seemed the West coast of the state and it’s several splashdown zones were going to be far too rough for a safe/successful recovery, but things picked up in the Atlantic as well and SpaceX & NASA were forced to wait until after the storm was passed to begin the process of bringing home CRS-22. Just when we thought that the GO Searcher recovery vessel was going to have it’s turn to finally recover a Dragon things changed and operations were once again moved to the West coast of Florida.
At 10:45 AM Est on July 8th, 2021 the Dragon capsule was confirmed to have undocked from the International Space Station and completing some de-orbit burns moving it further away from the space station. It wasn’t until about 11:30 PM Est on July 9th that the capsule splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico just South of Tallahassee. Around 11:00 PM Est SpaceX tweeted that the de-orbit burn was completed, the Dragon’s trunk was separated and the nosecone was closed. Once the capsule splashed down in the Gulf the Dragon was lifted onto the recovery vessel and work began immediately to get time sensitive science back to Kennedy Space Center. For this a helicopter was used to collect the research and make the short flight back to KSC so there would be minimal gravity exposure to some of the samples.
The Dragon capsule itself will take the longer route back to Kennedy. The GO Navigator will have to traverse all the way around the state, including the Florida keys and head up the East coast to be brought home. That doesn’t mean what work that can be done won’t be, workers will have already started the process of making the capsule ready again for it’s next flight by protecting it from the elements and heavy salt exposure it will encounter on its trip back.