Dragon at Sunrise / Image credit NASA
Update: The Dragon departed ISS on time this morning at 6:04 AM CDT as it was 250 miles over the southern coast of Australia.
The SpaceX CRS-6 Dragon capsule is set to return from the International Space Station tomorrow morning, Thursday, May 21st.
NASA television will provide coverage beginning at 6:45 AM EDT. The Dragon launched to the space station aboard a Falcon 9 on April 14th, arriving at the orbiting outpost three days later.
After five weeks in orbit, the capsule will be detached from the Earth facing Harmony with the Canadarm 2 remote manipulator arm under the direction of ground control at Houston’s Johnson Space Center. At 7:04 AM, astronaut Scott Kelley will give the release command, allowing the spacecraft to begin its carefully controlled, three step departure from ISS. The deorbit burn should take place at approximately 11:49 AM, at which point the Dragon, laden with more than 3,100 lbs of cargo, including multiple experiment samples from both NASA and CASIS, will begin its plunge towards the Pacific Ocean. The estimated time of splashdown at 12:42 PM, and as has been the case since the CRS-1 mission, there will be no aerial footage of the event.
The Dragon’s 36 days in orbit will have marked an interesting period both for SpaceX, and for the space station it serves. The intervening time has seen two more launches from SLC-40. One was the Thales Alenia mission, and the second and far more unusual, was the Pad Abort Test of the Commercial Crew version of Dragon, which took place on May 6th. In between the two events, the Russian Progress M-27-M cargo freighter was lost in a launch accident on April 28th, leaving the SpaceX Dragon, for the moment at least, as the only source of ISS resupply.
With an investigation into the Progress accident still ongoing, the next cargo run to the Station will be the NASA/SpaceX CRS-7 mission which has now been pushed back from an original NET (no earlier than) date of June 19th, until the 26th.
Liftoff is scheduled for 11:09 AM EDT, and SpaceX has confirmed that the mission will include a third attempt at landing a Falcon 9 first stage on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship “Just Read the Instructions.”