Dragon returned from the ISS on May 18 after a one-month visit. The SpaceX cargo ship was set loose by astronaut Steven Swanson, releasing SpaceX’s Dragon by using the big robot arm.
The commercial cargo ship soared more than 260 miles above the South Pacific, bringing back nearly 2 tons of science experiments and old equipment for NASA.
“Welcome home, Dragon!” the California-based company said via Twitter.
“Very nice to have a vehicle that can take your science, equipment and maybe someday even humans back to Earth,” Swanson told Mission Control.
The SpaceX Dragon is the only supply ship capable of returning items to Earth. The others burn up on re-entry. This was the fourth Dragon to bring back space station goods, with 3,500 pounds aboard; it came down off Mexico’s Baja California coast.
NASA is paying SpaceX and Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp. to make station deliveries. Orbital is next up, next month. Russia, Europe and Japan also make occasional shipments.
SpaceX also is competing for the right to ferry station astronauts, perhaps as early as 2017.
The Dragon rocketed to the space station on April 18 with a full load and arrived at the orbiting lab two days later.
SpaceX was founded in 2002 by former PayPal entrepreneur and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk with the goal of reducing space transportation costs and enabling the colonization of Mars.
The company has developed the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 launch vehicles, both of which were designed from conception to eventually become reusable.
In order to control quality and costs, SpaceX designs, tests and fabricates the majority of its components in-house, including the Merlin, Kestrel, and Draco rocket engines used on the Falcon launch vehicles and the Dragon spacecraft.