SpaceX Returns Cargo To NASA in Good Shape

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Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) is one small step closer to beginning routine supply runs to the international space station (ISS) now that NASA has verified that the company safely returned 35 kilograms of time-sensitive cargo from the orbiting outpost.

This so-called early return cargo, packed into four bags, reached NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston June 2 — 57 hours after splashing down aboard SpaceX’s Dragon capsule in the Pacific Ocean.

Preliminary assessments by ISS program officials at Johnson show that the shipment is in good condition, NASA spokesman Josh Byerly said June 7. The safe return of this cargo was one of the objectives SpaceX had to fulfill for its historic demonstration flight to be considered a success.

“The cargo-return objective is considered complete based on the early cargo return,” Byerly said.

The shipment, rushed back to NASA ahead of the rest of the cargo Dragon brought back from ISS, includes samples from the station’s life support systems; water filtration and purification equipment; and hardware used by the Shear History Extensional Rheology Experiment. The experiment, overseen by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, studies the behavior of liquid polymers in microgravity, something scientists believe is necessary to support certain space-based manufacturing endeavors.

Dragon brought 620 kilograms of cargo back to Earth May 31, making it the first U.S.-built post-shuttle vehicle to do so. The cargo that was not rushed to NASA arrived at SpaceX’s McGregor, Texas, rocket-test facility June 7, SpaceX spokeswoman Kirstin Grantham said. SpaceX will deliver this cargo to NASA in about two weeks, Byerly said.

It will still be about two months before NASA clears SpaceX for regular space station cargo runs under the $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract the company signed in 2008.

A new Dragon spacecraft will be used for each of these missions. The first of these is still in SpaceX’s Hawthorne, Calif., manufacturing facility and is expected to ship to SpaceX’s hangar at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., this summer. The Falcon 9 rocket that will launch the first CRS Dragon is already being processed at the Cape, Grantham said.