WASHINGTON —  Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s (SpaceX) Dragon cargo capsule, which returned May 31 from a nine-day demonstration mission to the international space station (ISS), is on its way to Texas for postflight processing.

The inspection will take place at SpaceX’s rocket-testing facility in McGregor. With its historic flight complete — Dragon is the first privately operated spacecraft to deliver cargo to ISS — SpaceX must prove that the capsule, and the 620 kilograms of cargo it brought back to Earth, were not damaged during the return from orbit.

The ship carrying Dragon is due to dock in a port near Los Angeles on June 6, SpaceX spokeswoman Kirstin Grantham said. The trip could take longer depending upon weather. Once Dragon makes landfall, some of the cargo it is carrying will be delivered to NASA right away, and some will be trucked to Texas along with the spacecraft.

“The only thing [left] to go is the recovery of the cargo,” said Alan Lindenmoyer, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office. Lindenmoyer joined SpaceX founder and Chief Executive Elon Musk for a post-splashdown media briefing from SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. “That’ll complete the formal objectives that we had for the mission.”

Lindenmoyer said SpaceX will make an initial postflight report to NASA the week of June 6, with a final report to follow “several weeks later.”

If NASA determines that SpaceX met all of its technology demonstration milestones, the company will be cleared to start carrying essential cargo to the ISS under a $1.6 billion contract it signed in 2008.

Dragon parachuted into the Pacific Ocean about 900 kilometers off the coast of Mexico’s Baja California. Splashdown occurred at 11:42 a.m. EDT, about two minutes ahead of schedule. SpaceX recovered the craft, intact and fully functional, shortly after, Musk said. Dragon’s return marked the first time since the end of the shuttle program in July that a U.S. vehicle has brought anything back from ISS.



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Dan Leone is a SpaceNews staff writer, covering NASA, NOAA and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He earned a bachelor’s degree in public communications from the American University in Washington.