Dragon spacecraft sets out on historic return to ISS
SpaceX penned another line in the history books today as a refurbished Dragon cargo ship set off to revisit the International Space Station. Part of the Commercial Resupply Services mission (CRS-11), the Dragon lifted off atop a Falcon 9 booster at 5:07 pm EDT (21:07 GMT) from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Florida. This marks the first time that the same unmanned spacecraft has returned to the station.
Today's launch was originally scheduled for June 1, but was delayed due to lightning in the vicinity. This time, the weather was partly cloudy and the lift off went without any major delays or technical problems.
One minute and 18 seconds into the flight, the Falcon 9 booster reached its point of maximum mechanical stress and at the two minute and 22 second mark, the first stage engines shut down followed by the second stage separation three seconds later.
The second stage's single Merlin engine fired for less than seven minutes before the Dragon separated at ten minutes and 20 seconds after launch. Two minutes later, the solar arrays deployed to provide the spacecraft with electrical power. Meanwhile, the Falcon 9 first stage re-fired its engines to return to SpaceX's Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida to make what is becoming a routine post-launch landing.
The Dragon is currently undergoing system checks in preparation for a series of orbital maneuvers before it makes its rendezvous with the ISS on June 5, when it will deliver 6,000 lb (2,721 kg) of supplies and experiments. NASA says that while Dragon is approaching, the unmanned Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo ship will depart the station and head into an orbit that will cause it to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere over the South Pacific.
This Dragon spacecraft previously visited the station in September 2014 during the CRS-4 mission. It will remain docked for about a month before returning to Earth for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California.
The video below is a replay of the live launch webcast.