SpaceX's Dragon cargo spacecraft successfully returned home to Earth with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on Sunday morning after spending more than a month aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The Dragon was lifted to the ISS in the SpaceX's 12th contracted resupply mission to the orbiting laboratory for Nasa in August in which it delivered more than 6,400 pounds of cargo.
Expedition 53's flight engineer Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency (ESA) and Nasa astronaut Randy Bresnik released the Dragon from the space station's Harmony module at 4:47am EST using the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Once manoeuvred in place, the Dragon fired its thrusters to move it a safe distance from the ISS before SpaceX flight controllers in Hawthorne, California, took over to command its deorbit burn.
Dragon splashed down off the coast of Baja, California, about 5.5 hours later carrying 3,800 pounds of cargo and research. The spacecraft was loaded with experimental results, research samples and other cargo including "science samples from human and animal research, biology and biotechnology studies, physical science investigations and education activities", Nasa said.
While Nasa broadcast its release from the ISS, the space agency did not livestream its splashdown in the Pacific. SpaceX personnel aboard a recovery vessel are scheduled to retrieve the craft.
The Dragon's return to Earth marks the successful completion of SpaceX's CRS-12 mission for Nasa under its $3bn (£2.31bn) contract with the space agency. SpaceX launched the Dragon perched on top of its flagship Falcon 9 rocket from the historic Launch Complex 39A at Nasa's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on 14 August.
The 12th resupply mission was also the last time SpaceX launched a first-generation Dragon spacecraft for a flight. Now, the company, owned by Elon Musk, will only use recovered and refurbished Dragon capsules in future missions as part of its reusability goals to slash spaceflight, launch and hardware prices.