Cape Canaveral, Oct 29 (): An unmanned Dragon freighter carrying a stash of precious medical samples from the International Space Station parachuted into the Pacific Ocean, west of Mexico at 12:22 local time (19:22 GMT) on Sunday, completing the first official shipment under a billion-dollar contract with NASA.
The capsule was sent by the California-based company Space X, the first of 12 missions it will perform for US space agency NASA. The capsule’s return to earth wrapped-up the first US supply run to the orbital outpost since the space shuttles were retired last year.
NASA is looking to the private sector to assume routine transport duties to and from low-Earth orbit. It is the second Dragon to return from the orbiting lab; the first mission in May was a flight demo.
SpaceX, more formally Space Exploration Technologies Corp. launched the capsule three weeks ago from Cape Canaveral, on 7th October and reached the station three days later, full of groceries, clothes and other station supplies. Ice cream as well as fresh apples were especially appreciated by the station residents.
The capsule delivered about 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms) of cargo to the space station and is taking home 1,670 pounds (758 kilograms) of supplies, hardware and scientific tests and results.
On the return leg, it was crammed with nearly a ton of material, including science experiments, medical samples previously collected from astronauts, and various station components. The hardware that is being returned to NASA includes defective parts from the Space Station, which will need to be examined by scientists here on the ground.
The Dragon capsule measures 14.4 feet tall and 12 feet wide, with a trunk section. The spacecraft can carry up to 7,297 pounds of cargo split between the pressurized and unpressurized sections.
SpaceX is expected to launch another run to the ISS in January. So far, SpaceX has only sent unmanned flights into orbit, but the company aims to send a manned flight within the next three or four years.
SpaceX is working under a separate $ US 440 million NASA contract to upgrade the Dragon capsule and its Falcon 9 launcher to carry astronauts. The company plans a test flight with its own employees in 2015.
Another company contracted by NASA for supply missions, Orbital Sciences Corp, is scheduled to debut its Cygnus capsule in February or March.