Elon Musk’s SpaceX has achieved yet another record in space travel with its cargo Dragon capsule as the first spacecraft to complete three consecutive trips to the International Space Station.
Notably, before setting the new record, Dragon previously broke ground as the first commercial vehicle to dock with the ISS.
SpaceX uses its Dragon cargo capsule for deployment and retrieval of experiment materials, supplies and more to and from the ISS.
Particularly, SpaceX has achieved the recognition mainly due to the innovation where the capsule can be reused for consecutive missions to and from the Earth and space. The fact that the space company can refurbish and send it back for another launch also makes spaceflight more economical. In other words, SpaceX’s cargo Dragon capsules cut the overall cost of space travel drastically.
The capsule launched into its third trip to space on July 25 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Carried by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, it reached the space station two days later as they floated above southern Chile on July 27, according to a SpaceXpress release.
The successful rendezvous marked SpaceX’s eighteenth Commercial Resupply Services mission to the flying laboratory.
The spacecraft then left the space station Tuesday morning at 10:59 a.m. EDT (14:59 GMT), manipulated by the Canadarm2 robotic arm and supported by NASA astronaut Christina Koch. The capsule then began its nearly 6-hour journey home.
“We are very appreciative of a successful Dragon mission,” Koch radioed from the station to Mission Control in Houston as the spacecraft departed. “We were glad to conduct all the excellent science as a part of this mission and we look forward to more in the future.”
Dragon splashed down at 4:20 p.m. EDT (20:20 GMT) in a target zone about 300 miles (483 kilometers) southwest of Long Beach, California, where a SpaceX recovery ship retrieved the capsule from the sea.
“Good splashdown of Dragon confirmed, completing this spacecraft’s third mission to and from the space station,” SpaceXofficials said via Twitter.
Along with the successful reentry of cargo Dragon, the vehicle was also loaded with return cargo from the ISS, with almost 2,700 pounds of materials and results from experiments, which NASA staff on the ground will now examine and study.
Initially, Dragon Dragon carried more than 5,000 pounds worth of payload to the Space Station, and over half of which was related to science and research missions.
Upon its return, however, Dragon was able to carry some results from experiments conducted in space.
One of which included the results of experiments growing moss in microgravity environments and the findings of NASA’s Goodyear tire investigation, which looks at the effects of gravity on silica.
NASA explained in a statement on the Dragon splashdown that “A better understanding of silica morphology and the relationship between silica structure and its properties could provide improvements for increased fuel efficiency, which would reduce transportation costs and help to protect Earth’s environment.”
There’s also footage for “The ISS Experience,” a virtual reality film created over the course of a year onboard the space station, where astronauts filmed at least 4 hours of footage each week. Once post processed, the film is meant to provide a virtual experience for anyone who is curious about what happens on a day-to-day basis in the ISS.
One of the return cargo items is actually a spherical robot called CIMON, and is basically a space-based smart speaker companion. A small robot, called the Crew Interactive Mobile Companion (CIMON), is also hitching a ride back to Earth after months of artificial intelligence experiments to test its use as an astronaut companion.
Dragon, unlike some cargo vehicles, does not burn up on reentry and so is best suited to ferrying material that needs examination, not disposal.
SpaceX’s cargo Dragon is well-suited for carrying sensitive materials back to Earth because it remains intact through re-entry, but the company’s next version, Crew Dragon, will hope to return astronauts as well as supplies and objects when it begins operation, hopefully with initial crewed flights either late this year or next.