Four days after entering and scattering Earth’s atmosphere in the Gulf of Mexico, SpaceX has safely returned its second upgraded Cargo Dragon spacecraft to land on the east coast of Florida.
On Thursday, July 8, the unmanned SpaceX spacecraft officially ejected from the International Space Station (ISS) after more than a month in orbit. When the Cargo Dragon 2 spacecraft blasted off on the Falcon 9 last month, it was carrying more than 3.3 metric tons (about 7,300 pounds) of food, water, science experiments and space station hardware — an all-time record for SpaceX and Dragon. When the same spacecraft returned to Earth 36 days later, it plunged more than two metric tons (4,400 pounds) of cargo in tow.
Nine years after Dragon became the first privately developed spacecraft ever to successfully rendezvous with the International Space Station, it remains the world’s only spacecraft capable of returning large payloads from orbit, making Dragon truly invaluable.
Over the course of 25 successful Dragon orbital launches and recovery, SpaceX has used the vast majority of that exclusive capability to return nearly 40 metric tons (~90,000 lb) of critical science experiments, instrumentation, and more from the space station to Earth.
Derived from the inherent recoverability of the Dragon capsule, this unique ability to return cargo from orbit has also translated to SpaceX to become the only entity on Earth that regularly reuses orbital spacecraft – second only to NASA and the Space Shuttle. while the dragon far From the space shuttle’s record average of more than two dozen missions per orbiter, SpaceX has reused Dragon capsules ten times and flew capsules on three orbital missions in three separate states.
Crew Dragon and Cargo Dragon 2 build this unimportant foundation with many iterative improvements, resulting in a much easier, faster-to-rotate spacecraft nominally capable of at least five orbital flights. Unlike Dragon 1, NASA has also been involved in reusing Dragon 2 from the start, which means SpaceX won’t have to wait years to start reusing its fleet of orbiting spacecraft.
In fact, SpaceX has already used the Dragon 2 spacecraft, launching two separate groups of astronauts with the Crew Dragon C206 capsule in March 2020 and April 2021. Aside from representing the first time in history that a crew space capsule has flown twice, the C206 capsule also broke the record SpaceX’s Dragon Transformation. Meanwhile, SpaceX’s next Dragon mission – the CRS-23 – will mark SpaceX’s first reuse of the Cargo Dragon 2 spacecraft, flying the same capsule just seven months after its first recovery.