Miles O'Brien

Reporting on space, science, aviation & tech.

A Fire Breathing Dragon

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It is all over but the “chuting.” International Space Station Keepers unleashed the SpaceX Dragon Capsule at 0949 GMT (5:49am EDT) and sent the history-making capsule on a fiery ride toward a spot in the Pacific about 500 miles west of Los Angeles.

I got up early this morning to help shed some light on this for the viewers of CNN Early Start. You can see my appearance here.

Ahead for Dragon is a series of “burns” (rocket firings) leading up to the Big One – a nine minute and fifty second braking de-orbit burn beginning at 1451 GMT (10:51am EDT) which will slow the craft down just enough to stop its revolutionary free fall.

Dragon is slated to splashdown at 1544 GMT/11:44am EDT.

With the shuttle fleet pickled, chocked and either in – or on their way to museums, Dragon is the only vehicle designed to haul cargo back to Earth in tact. Freighters from Russian, Europe and Japan are more like trash incinerators – as they do not have heat shields and parachutes designed to insure a safe landing.

Dragon is carrying just shy of 1400 pounds of cargo. More than it hauled up.

On board, about 300 pounds of crew preference items (lots of mementoes  for friends and family), 200 pounds worth of scientific experiments, and nearly 800 pounds of station gear including a pump for the station urine recycling system (yes, they drink their own pee up there…).

Dragon will re-enter the atmosphere like a streaking meteor – as its ablative heat shield burns away – protecting the spacecraft from the searing heat.

A small flotilla of SpaceX vessels are near the imaginary bullseye in the Pacific – ready to pluck Dragon out of the water and start steaming toward the Port of Los Angeles. Some of the cargo will stay inside Dragon as it is trucked back to the SpaceX facility near Waco, Texas. Some items that have a shorter shelf life will be retrieved and returned right away.

SpaceX and Dragon had an astounding run for a first-of-its-kind test flight. Take a look at the objectives NASA laid out for its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services flights 2 and 3. You can put a check on nearly every box – except for the last two items – a safe landing and a recovery of the cargo.

Assuming all goes well, SpaceX will begin for-real cargo missions to ISS later this year. The Falcon 9 rocket earmarked for the first of twelve of these cargo supply runs is already at the Cape. The Dragon capsule being built for the job sits in the factory in Hawthorne – a short walk from the company’s Mission Control room.

Departure Operations – as Planned (in GMT)

2012-05-31 09:35:00 ISS releases Dragon
2012-05-31 09:50:00 Departure Burn 1
2012-05-31 09:51:36 Departure Burn 2
2012-05-31 09:57:44 Departure Burn 3
2012-05-31 09:58:06 Dragon Yaw maneuver
2012-05-31 10:03:11 TDRSS pointing
2012-05-31 10:45:10 Reduce Apogee Burn
2012-05-31 10:45:40 Unlatch/Close/Latch GNC Door Prep
2012-05-31 12:10:40 GNC Door Closure
2012-05-31 14:40:58 TDRSS omni
2012-05-31 14:50:58 Deorbit Burn
2012-05-31 15:00:59 Jettison trunk
2012-05-31 15:28:05 GPS Blackout Period
2012-05-31 15:35:35 Drogue Chute Deployment
2012-05-31 15:36:32 Main Chute Deployment
2012-05-31 15:44:32 Water Landing