An unmanned SpaceX Dragon cargo ship departs the International Space Station, loaded with science experiments and equipment for analysis on Earth.
IN SPACE (FEBRUARY 10, 2015) (NASA) – Astronauts aboard the International Space Station dispatched a SpaceX Dragon cargo ship for splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday (February 10), while the company prepared for its next rocket launch in Florida.
The gumdrop-shaped Dragon capsule, which arrived at the station on Jan. 12, was released by a 58-foot (18-meter) robotic arm at 2:10 p.m. EST (1910 GMT) as the vehicles sailed 257 miles (414 km) over Australia, NASA mission commentator Kyle Herring said.
The Dragon is loaded with nearly 4,000 pounds (1,814 kg) of returning science experiments and equipment, including two faulty components from spacesuits that engineers want to analyze before clearing U.S. astronauts for a trio of spacewalks later this month.
The capsule’s parachute splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, about 260 miles (418 km) southwest of Long Beach, California, is expected at 4:44 p.m. PST (0044 GMT on Wednesday).
Meanwhile in Florida, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) was preparing to launch its next Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 6:05 p.m. EST (2305 GMT)
The rocket will carry a U.S. government weather satellite to watch the sun and serve as a weather buoy to provide about an hour’s notice of potentially dangerous solar storms, which can disrupt radio communications, satellite signals and power grids on Earth.
Once in orbit around the sun, the Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR, also will monitor the sun-lit side of Earth, tracking volcanic plumes, measuring ozone and monitoring droughts, flooding and fires.
A camera aboard DSCOVR will take pictures of Earth every two hours. The photos will be posted on the Internet the next day.
SpaceX plans to attempt to land the spent first-stage of DSCOVR’s Falcon launcher, part of an ongoing effort to develop reusable rockets, potentially slashing launch costs.
The booster is programmed to separate itself three minutes after liftoff, turn around, make two braking burns and touch down on a platform floating about 370 miles (595 km) northeast of the launch site.
The last Falcon rocket to fly nearly made it back intact, but ran short of hydraulic fluid to maneuver steering fins and crashed into the platform.
Engineers have added an extra reservoir of hydraulic fluid for Tuesday’s attempt, but the rocket will be coming in with nearly twice the force and four times the heat, SpaceX founder and Chief Executive Elon Musk said on Twitter.
“Rocket re-entry will be much tougher this time around due to deep space mission … plenty of hydraulic fluid tho,” Musk wrote.
Launch of DSCOVR was planned for Sunday, but was delayed due to a problem with an Air Force radar system needed to track the rocket during flight.