SpaceX’s CRS-13 Dragon capsule departs ISS after 4-week stay

The view from inside the space station as SpaceX’s CRS-13 Dragon arrived some four weeks ago on Dec. 17, 2017. The spacecraft departed the outpost Jan. 13, 2018. Credit: NASA

The view from inside the space station as SpaceX’s CRS-13 Dragon arrived some four weeks ago on Dec. 17, 2017. The spacecraft departed the outpost Jan. 13, 2018. Credit: NASA

The first visiting vehicle activity at the International Space Station in 2018 concluded Jan. 13 with the unberthing, departure and splashdown of SpaceX’s CRS-13 Dragon cargo ship after spending nearly a month at the orbiting outpost.

This was the second time the Hawthorne, California-based company utilized a refurbished Dragon capsule. The pressure vessel first flew as part of the CRS-6 mission in April 2015. Additionally, the Dec. 15, 2017, CRS-13 launch was the first time NASA utilized a “previously-flown” Falcon 9 first stage core.

CRS-13 brought to the outpost 2,205 kilograms of food, supplies, experiments and equipment to the ISS. The crew of Expedition 54 spent the last four weeks unloading the capsule and reloading it with unneeded equipment as well as experiments to return to Earth for data collection. According to NASA, approximately 1,860 kilograms of cargo, science and technology demonstration samples loaded inside Dragon.

Once the hatches between Dragon and the ISS were closed, ground-based robotics operators utilized Canadarm2—the stations 17.6-meter robotic arm—to unberth and move the capsule to a staging point some 10 meters below the Destiny laboratory. At 4:58 a.m. EST (9:58 GMT) it was released to begin a series of burns to safely move away from the space station.

While this was the first ground-controlled release of a visiting vehicle, NASA astronauts Joe Acaba and Scott Tingle—two of six people residing aboard the ISS—monitored the departure inside the station’s cupola window. Would it have become necessary, the two could have taken over control of the arm. However, everything went according to plan.

Several hours later, SpaceX teams commanded the capsule to closes its guidance, navigation and control bay door. This was expected at around 8:45 a.m. EST (13:45 GMT) with a 10-minute deorbit burn using Dragon’s Draco thrusters expected about an hour later at 9:43 a.m. EST (14:43 GMT).

Just before entry interface, the trunk of Dragon, which had the solar panels attached to it as well as a defunct external experiment that spent the last several years on the ISS, was jettisoned from the capsule. It was not designed to survive reentry and incinerated during the descent.

SpaceX confirmed via Twitter that the deorbit burn and trunk separation had occurred as planned.

After several minutes blazing through the atmosphere with its protective heat shield, Dragon slowed down enough for a series of parachutes to open up. Several minutes later, the vehicle performed a soft splashdown in the Pacific Ocean just off the coast of Baja California.

“Good splashdown of Dragon confirmed, completing the second resupply mission to and from the @Space_Station with a flight-proven commercial spacecraft,” SpaceX’s official Twitter account announced at 10:39 a.m. EST (15:39 GMT).

SpaceX employees are expected to recover the spacecraft via a ship and take it to Long Beach, California, just south of Los Angeles. There, time-sensitive cargo will be removed for an immediate return to NASA. After that, the capsule with the rest of the cargo will be transported to the company’s test facility in McGregor, Texas, where it will undergo final processing, according to NASA.

This was the 13th mission for SpaceX under NASA’s $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services contract with the company. The only mission that did not arrive to the outpost was 2015’s CRS-7 mission, which was lost after the Falcon 9 carrying the rocket exploded some two minutes into ascent.

CRS-13 was the first of several additional missions added to the first phase of CRS, known as CRS 1. In 2016, NASA announced three companies and their spacecraft—SpaceX with its Dragon, Orbital ATK with its Cygnus, and Sierra Nevada Corporation with its Dream Chaser—were awarded a minimum of six missions to resupply the ISS beginning in as early as late 2019 as part of the second phase of the commercial cargo program, CRS 2.

NOTE: While this article was written by Derek Richardson, it was originally published at SpaceFlight Insider. Feel free to head over there to read all the stuff they write about!


Derek Richardson

I am a space geek who loves to write about space.

My passion for space ignited when I watched space shuttle Discovery leap to space on October 29, 1998. Today, this fervor has accelerated toward orbit and shows no signs of slowing down. After dabbling in math and engineering courses in college, I soon realized that my true calling was communicating to others about space exploration and spreading that passion.

Currently, I am a senior at Washburn University studying Mass Media with an emphasis in contemporary journalism. In addition to running Orbital Velocity, I write for the Washburn Review and am the Managing Editor for SpaceFlight Insider.