SpaceX Proposes Recovering Dragon Spacecraft in Gulf of Mexico

Dragon capsule after recovery. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX has proposed recovering Dragon spacecraft in the Gulf of Mexico as a contingency option to recovering them in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

“With the introduction of the [commercial crew program], the ability to return crew to Earth in a safe and timely manner is extremely important, particularly in cases where human life or health may be in jeopardy,” according to a draft environmental assessment published by the FAA.

“The purpose of the Proposed Action is to therefore establish an additional Dragon-2 splashdown option,” the report stated. “The Proposed Action is needed as the additional option further ensures that a secondary splashdown option is available to missions planned to splashdown in either the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans, which would provide the returning crew with a timely and safe return to Earth.”

Dragon landing areas in the Gulf of Mexico. (Credit: SpaceX)

The Gulf of Mexico would serve as a backup in the event of severe weather in the planned recovery area. Under the proposal, the FAA would issue reentry license that would authorize SpaceX to conduct up to six Dragon recovery operations there.

The company has been recovering cargo Dragon spacecraft in the Pacific Ocean off Baja California.

The Drago-2 crew system will have eight SuperDraco engines as part of its launch abort system and 16 Draco reaction control system engines for maneuvering in space.

“The propulsion system uses nitrogen tetroxide (NTO) and monomethylhydrazine (MMH) propellant combination because of its hypergolic ignition and long term in-orbit storage benefits,” the report stated. “The Dragon-2 could contain up to 4,885 pounds of propellant which includes 3,004 pounds of NTO and 1,881 pounds of MMH.

“The pressurization subsystem, which uses gaseous helium, is separated between the oxidizer and fuel to prevent propellant migration reactions,” the assessment added. “The Dragon propellant storage is designed to retain residual propellant preventing release into seawater upon splashdown.”

Dragon spacecraft would be recovered using a 160-foot ship with a heli-deck. The crew would egress the vehicle after it was brought aboard the ship.

SpaceX has a different plan for the Dragon’s trunk, which is used to carry unpressurized cargo to the space station.

“At the conclusion of each Dragon-2 mission, the trunk would be left in orbit. For cargo (Dragon-1) missions, the trunk falls through Earth’s atmosphere and burns up,” according to the report.

It’s not clear whether SpaceX has plans to fly the trunk with instruments or experiments. Or it could be an issue of not wanting to expend fuel to de-orbit it.