SpaceX’s upgraded Dragon spacecraft completed its first cargo resupply mission to and from the International Space Station, and SpaceX’s 21st Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-21) mission for NASA to-date, after successfully returning to Earth on Wednesday, January 13 at 8:36 p.m. EST and becoming the first cargo spacecraft to splash down off the coast of Florida. Returning closer to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida enables a quick handover of the scientific research on board the spacecraft to the agency’s processing facility and into the hands of researchers.
This was the first flight of the updated cargo version of Dragon, which is capable of carrying about 20 percent more volume than the previous version of Dragon and double the amount of powered locker cargo. It has the capability to allow science payloads to remain inside the spacecraft during the full mission’s duration as an extension to the space station lab space, also known as extend-the-lab. Dragon’s new design also permits for up to five flights to and from the space station, and this cargo version of the spacecraft can stay on station more than twice as long as the previous version.
After a five-week stay at the International Space Station, Dragon completed the first autonomous undocking of a commercial cargo spacecraft from the International Docking Adapter on Tuesday, January 12 at 9:05 a.m. EST. Dragon then performed three burns of its Draco thrusters to move away from the orbiting laboratory. After approximately 36 hours of phasing, the spacecraft re-entered Earth’s atmosphere, deployed its two drogue and four main parachutes for a soft water landing in the Gulf of Mexico, and returned 4,420 pounds of critical scientific research and other cargo.