Reused Dragon Spacecraft Splashes Down in Pacific

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — SpaceX’s Dragon cargo ship splashed down off the coast of Baja California this morning with more than 4,100 pounds of NASA cargo, science and technology demonstration samples from the International Space Station.

The Dragon spacecraft will be taken by ship to Long Beach, where some cargo will be removed immediately for return to NASA. Dragon then will be prepared for a return trip to SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas, for final processing.

A variety of technological and biological studies are returning in Dragon. The Fruit Fly Lab-02 experiment seeks to better understand the effects of prolonged exposure to microgravity on the heart. Flies are small, with a well-known genetic make-up, and age rapidly, making them good models for heart function studies. This experiment could significantly advance understanding of how spaceflight affects the cardiovascular system and could help develop countermeasures to help astronauts.

Samples from the Systemic Therapy of NELL-1 for osteoporosis will return as part of an investigation using rodents as models to test a new drug that can both rebuild bone and block further bone loss, improving crew health. When people and animals spend extended periods of time in space, they experience bone density loss, or osteoporosis. In-flight countermeasures, such as exercise, prevent it from getting worse, but there isn’t a therapy on Earth or in space that can restore bone density. The results from this ISS National Laboratory-sponsored investigation is built on previous research also supported by the National Institutes for Health and could lead to new drugs for treating bone density loss in millions of people on Earth.

The Cardiac Stem Cells experiment investigated how microgravity affects stem cells and the factors that govern stem cell activity. The study focuses on understanding cardiac stem cell function, which has numerous biomedical and commercial applications. Scientists will also look to apply new knowledge to the design of new stem cell therapies to treat heart disease on Earth.

Dragon is the only space station resupply spacecraft able to return a significant amount of cargo to Earth. The spacecraft lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 3 carrying about 6,000 pounds of supplies and scientific cargo on the company’s eleventh commercial resupply mission to the station.

For more than 16 years, humans have lived and worked continuously aboard the International Space Station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space. A global endeavor, more than 200 people from 18 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 2,000 research investigations from researchers in more than 95 countries.

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  • Congrats to the SpaceX team. I hope others look at this example and start reexamining their own efforts for places where even partial reusability makes sense.

  • Vladislaw

    NASA paid 133 million a launch for new falcon 9 and dragon for each cargo mission. I wonder how much bigelow will have to pay for that same cargo flight with used rockets and cargo vehicle? 50 Million?

  • windbourne

    I have to wonder, in the future, what price SX will be charging NASA for the same? I’m sure that at this time, SX is getting full price, even when using ‘used’. BUT, down the road, it seems like they should be giving us tax payers a break. That way, NASA can do more science and human launches.

  • duheagle

    SpaceX’s CRS contract with NASA has been modified, by mutual consent, several times. The CRS-11 “experiment” is simply one more instance. For what it’s worth, I am certain a reduction in mission price was part of this latest adjustment. It was worth something to SpaceX to demonstrate Dragon 1 reusability so that it could begin closing down Dragon 1 production in favor of Dragon 2. Given that the main benefit of reusability is lower mission prices, it seems beyond belief – to me at least – that a price cut for NASA on CRS-11 wasn’t part of the arrangement. We taxpayers have, almost certainly, already gotten a break. We’ll be getting more where that one came from.

  • I seem to recall an interview with either a SpaceX or NASA rep that said they haven’t changed the dollar amount of the contracts with the lost resupply flight. There have been in-kind exchanges to cover the losses. I would imagine that will happen in this case too; some kind of compensation for the perceived additional risk of reused hardware.

  • Vladislaw

    NASA will always demand more than a commercial customer .. in general. NASA didn’t want to utilize any used dragons in the first bed. So the costs were higher. SpaceX will be switching to the dragon 2, I believe for cargo now also so they can do propulsive cargo landings rather than ocean landing.. I believe the ISS will not need anymore cargo contracts… if they end it is 2024.

  • windbourne

    What is sad is that so many ppl gripe about the deal that SX got from NASA in terms of COTS. Yet in the first csr contract, NASA saved more than a billion from SX compared Ula or even orbital.

  • Terry Stetler

    That’s a pretty safe bet since SpaceX has a proven capability, F9 Block 5 & Falcon Heavy* are just around the corner, and Blue Origin is ramping up for reusable ops around 2019-2020.

    Keep up or die.

    * Center core (#0033) & 1 Flight Proven™ booster at KSC, 1 Flight Proven™ booster heading to McGregor for tests.

  • windbourne

    I recall that as well. I think NASA and DOD are trying coddle SX and other startups to restore true competition like we had in the 60s.

    They want innovation and low cost.

  • duheagle

    One way or another NASA gets more for its buck than originally bargained for.

  • duheagle

    I don’t think “coddling” enters the picture at all. SpaceX offers good services at very good prices. For a DoD that’s been squeezed by sequestration the last few years, pinching pennies may be a new thing, but also one it seems to be adopting with some enthusiasm.