A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully returned to Earth on Thursday, bringing back the Dragon cargo capsule that it had launched in May with Nasa astronauts. The mission was the second flight of SpaceX’s Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station.
The booster and the capsule separated from each other at about 9.50am local time (0550 GMT) before flying into the Pacific Ocean. They were expected to arrive in under an hour.
SpaceX has now returned three Dragon spacecraft and the booster booster back to Earth, after going back to the launch site at Cape Canaveral, Florida, for the first time since the second half of its mission failed in April.
“I’m excited to see the rocket come back and the rocket land and give us the ultimate test,” space station commander Mark Vande Hei said in a televised interview before entering the capsule and donning protective gloves. “I’m looking forward to that.”
Welcome home, SpaceX Dragon capsule! You’re all hail to the prince, Alan (@arslied) May 29, 2018
Vande Hei and his two crewmates, Russian cosmonaut Andrey Borisenko and Nasa astronaut Anne McClain, have been living on the space station since arriving on 19 April, along with Russian commander Oleg Kononenko and Japanese spaceflyer Kimiya Yui.
In April, the Falcon 9 rocket carrying the cargo spacecraft exploded just before lift-off as it was undergoing fuel checks, although the cause of the failure is under investigation.
Thursday’s splashdown of the booster marks the beginning of another phase in the space station’s $100bn programme. With the Dragon arrival, Russia has now replenished its payload hold twice in a few days. On Wednesday, the Soyuz rocket returned a packed cargo ship to Earth, with an American, an Argentinian and a Russian aboard.
The US has halted government contracts with private companies for cargo runs to the space station after SpaceX’s accident. Commercial spacecraft might not be able to pick up the slack because of the partial US government shutdown.