Commercial Space

SpaceX Dragon Splashes Down in Pacific with Treasure Trove of Space Station Science

The SpaceX Dragon CRS-10 spacecraft is pictured seconds before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on Mar. 19, 2017 after departing the International Space Station (ISS). Credit: SpaceX

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – SpaceX’s tenth contracted resupply mission to the International Space Station came to a safe conclusion with a splashdown of the Dragon spacecraft in the Pacific Ocean Sunday and successfully returned a treasure trove of more than two tons of precious science experiments and research samples from the space station.

Researchers on Earth are eagerly awaiting the science data and samples in order to carry out high powered laboratory analysis that will eventually yield the fruits of the hard won labor – years in the making.

The Dragon CRS-10 cargo freighter departed the International Space Station (ISS) Sunday morning after Expedition 50 astronauts Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) and Shane Kimbrough of NASA released the spacecraft from the grip of the station’s 57.7-foot-long(17.6-meter) Canadian-built Canadarm2 robotic arm as planned at 5:11 a.m. EDT, March 19.

After carefully maneuvering away from the orbiting outpost and six person international crew at an altitude of appox. 250 miles (400 km), Dragon eased away to a safe distance.

SpaceX’s Dragon CRS-10 cargo vehicle is attached to the International Space Station on Feb 23, 2017 after early morning capture by astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Thomas Pesquet using the robotic arm and subsequent berthing at Earth facing port on the Harmony module. It will stay for a month. Credit: NASA

The vessel then fired its braking thrusters a few hours later to initiate the reentry burn that would set the craft on course for a fiery plummet through the Earth’s atmosphere.

Some five and a half hours later the spaceship carried out a parachute assisted splashdown in the Pacific Ocean at 10:46 a.m. EDT, about 200 miles southwest of Long Beach, California.

The highest priority research and technology cargo will be removed from Dragon immediately and returned to NASA.

SpaceX CRS-10 Dragon supply ship launched on Feb. 19, 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida successfully arrives at the International Space Station on Feb. 23, 2017 for capture and berthing at station port on the Harmony module. Credit: NASA

The rest will travel back to port and be prepared for a return trip to SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas, where the remaining scientific samples, research experiments and technology gear and hardware will be unloaded for NASA.

Dragon had spent nearly a month berthed at the Earth-facing port on the station’s Harmony module, since arriving on Feb 23.

Dragon begun its space voyage after it was launched from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on Sunday, Feb. 19 on the first Falcon 9 rocket ever to blast off from historic launch pad 39A in a blaze of glory – as I reported here.

Historic maiden blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center) at 9:38 a.m. EDT on Feb 19, 2017, on Dragon CRS-10 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. Credit: Ken Kremer/

At liftoff, the Dragon CRS-10 space freighter was carrying more than 5500 pounds of equipment, gear, food, crew supplies, hardware and NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol Gas Experiment III (SAGE III) ozone mapping science payload to the low Earth orbiting station in support of the Expedition 50 and 51 crew members.

After a four day chase, Dragon was captured and attached to the station using the Canadian arm on Feb 23 by the same two astronauts who released it on Sunday.

The research supplies and equipment brought up by Dragon will support over 250 scientific investigations to advance knowledge about the medical, psychological and biomedical challenges astronauts face during long-duration spaceflight.

SAGE III will measure stratospheric ozone, aerosols, and other trace gases by locking onto the sun or moon and scanning a thin profile of the atmosphere. It is one of NASA’s longest running earth science programs.

The LIS lightning mapper will measure the amount, rate and energy of lightning as it strikes around the world from the altitude of the ISS as it orbits Earth. Its data will complement that from the recently orbited GLM lighting mapper lofted to geosynchronous aboard the NASA/NOAA GOES-R spacecraft instrument.

NASA’s RAVEN experiment will test autonomous docking technologies for spacecraft.

SAGE III and RAVEN were stowed in the Dragon’s unpressurized truck. Astronauts plucked them out of the trunk using the robotic arm and attached them to specified locations on the stations exterior to carry out their objectives.

For the return trip to Earth, the astronaut crew loaded Dragon with more than 5,400 pounds of NASA cargo, and science and technology demonstration samples gathered and collected by the stations crewmembers.

“A variety of technological and biological studies are returning in Dragon. The Microgravity Expanded Stem Cells investigation had crew members observe cell growth and other characteristics in microgravity,” said NASA.

“This information will provide insight into how human cancers start and spread, which aids in the development of prevention and treatment plans. Results from this investigation could lead to the treatment of disease and injury in space, as well as provide a way to improve stem cell production for human therapy on Earth.”

“Samples from the Tissue Regeneration-Bone Defect study, a U.S. National Laboratory investigation sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, studied what prevents vertebrates such as rodents and humans from re-growing lost bone and tissue, and how microgravity conditions affect the process. Results will provide a new understanding of the biological reasons behind a human’s inability to grow a lost limb at the wound site, and could lead to new treatment options for the more than 30 percent of the patient population who do not respond to current options for chronic non-healing wounds.”

Dragon departed in order to make way for the arrival of the next cargo ship.

The ‘SS John Glenn’ Cygnus cargo freighter built by Orbital Sciences is due to lift off no earlier than March 27 on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft named for Sen. John Glenn, one of NASA’s original seven astronauts, stands inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida behind a sign commemorating Glenn on March 9, 2017. Launch slated for March 21 on a ULA Atlas V. Credit: Ken Kremer/

Watch for Ken’s onsite launch and mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Ken Kremer

Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, research scientist, freelance science journalist (KSC area,FL) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calendars including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, FOX, BBC,, Spaceflight Now, Science and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, NASA Wallops, NASA Michoud/Stennis/Langley and on over 80 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight - Follow Ken on Facebook and Twitter

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