SpaceX CRS-12 mission comes to a close with Dragon’s splashdown
After spending a month berthed to the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX‘s Dragon spacecraft marked the end of its CRS-12 mission with a successful splashdown at 10:14 a.m. EDT (14:14 GMT) on September 17, 2017. The spacecraft returned with an estimated 3,800 pounds (1,724 kilograms) of cargo and was secured and taken aboard a waiting recovery ship.
Dragon returns with experiments… and marks the end of an era
While there are several spacecraft capable of ferrying crew or cargo to the orbiting station, Dragon is the only one capable of returning to Earth with a significant amount of cargo. Other than the Russian Soyuz crew capsule, Dragon is the only currently operating spacecraft designed to survive re-entry.
It is largely this downmass capability that sets Dragon apart from its contemporaries and is a considerable asset to researchers with experiments running on the ISS. Without the ability to return the experiments to scientists on the ground, researchers must rely on data transmitted from the station rather than examining the experiments first-hand.
Dragon allows for the return of critical materials to researchers in as little as 48 hours from splashdown.
Returning on CRS-12 was a variety of research projects, all of which were coordinated through the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS). CASIS is a non-profit organization that handles the research on the U.S. portion of the ISS and has been key in the transition of the ISS into supporting a commercial research laboratory.
Among the returning complement of experiments was a selection of mice that are part of the Rodent Research-9 study. Some of the “mousetronauts” will help give insight into how microgravity impacts blood vessels in both the brain and eyes, while others will play a role in determining how arthritis develops.
Beyond marking the end of the CRS-12 mission, the splashdown was also notable in that it was the last flight of a brand-new Dragon capsule. All subsequent flights of cargo Dragon capsules will use a previously flown spacecraft.
SpaceX plans to launch its next cargo resupply mission later this year, tentatively scheduled for some time in December 2017. The next mission for the California-based launch provider, however, is for the SES 11 / EchoStar 105 telecommunications satellite, which is targeting an October 2, 2017, launch date.
The CRS-12 mission was launched from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in Florida on August 14, 2017, atop one of Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX company’s Falcon 9 “Full Thrust” rockets.
File footage of the departure and return of CRS-11
Video courtesy of the Wall Street Journal
Curt Godwin has been a fan of space exploration for as long as he can remember, keeping his eyes to the skies from an early age. Initially majoring in Nuclear Engineering, Curt later decided that computers would be a more interesting - and safer - career field. He's worked in education technology for more than 20 years, and has been published in industry and peer journals, and is a respected authority on wireless network engineering. Throughout this period of his life, he maintained his love for all things space and has written about his experiences at a variety of NASA events, both on his personal blog and as a freelance media representative.