SpaceX's Dragon Safely Returns to Earth, Orbital Ready to Test Antares Rocket

SpaceX's Dragon Safely Returns to Earth, Orbital Ready to Test Antares Rocket

SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft successfully returned to Earth today.  This was the second of 12 contracted Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) flights for SpaceX to take cargo to and from the International Space Station (ISS).  Its competitor for providing these services, Orbital Sciences Corp., is getting ready for the first test flight of its Antares rocket next month.

Dragon was released from ISS this morning Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean west of Baja, CA as planned at 12:36 pm EDT (9:36 am PDT).  The spacecraft was launched on March 1 and after overcoming initial problems with its thrusters, was berthed to the ISS two days later by ISS astronauts.   This second ISS cargo flight is designated SpaceX CRS-2.  

CRS is the follow-on to NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) or “commercial cargo” development program through which NASA provided funding to two companies to build rockets and spacecraft to resupply the ISS.  COTS was initiated in 2006 after President George W. Bush decided to terminate the space shuttle program once ISS construction was completed and NASA needed another way to take cargo back and forth.   It also has a “commercial crew” program under which companies are competing to develop space systems to take crews back and forth.   Space X is one of the commercial crew competitors as well.

Orbital Sciences Corp. is the other company competing to deliver (but not return) cargo to the ISS using its Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft.  It is not competing in the commercial crew effort.

Orbital has scheduled the first Antares test flight for the April 16-18, 2013 time period,  Antares will launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility (WFF), Wallops Island, VA.   Orbital replaced a company (Rocketplane-Kistler) that did not meet its milestones under the COTS program a year and a half after the program started.  Consequently it is only now reaching the test phase.   NASA hopes Orbital will begin operational flights to ISS later this year.

Correction:  An earlier version of this article inadvertently misstated the dates for the Antares launch.  The correct dates are April 16-18.  Also, NASA’s press release about Dragon’s splash down states that it occurred at 12:36 pm EDT, not 12:34 as earlier reported.  SpaceX tweeted that it was “9:34 PDT,” or 12:34 EDT, but we have substituted NASA’s time in this article as it is a more official source.

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