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The Inspiration4 mission, flown by Crew Dragon Resilience, has concluded its three-day mission with a… The post Inspiration4 and all-civilian crew return to Earth with splashdown off Florida coast appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.
The Inspiration4 mission, flown by Crew Dragon Resilience, has concluded its three-day mission with a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.
Resilience splashed down off the coast of Cape Canaveral at 7:06 PM EDT (23:06 UTC), about 50 minutes after it began its deorbit burn. Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) had been filed for seven areas off of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of Florida for Saturday evening and a backup opportunity early Sunday morning, but weather and sea conditions allowed landing to be made in the primary area at the first opportunity.
Return of Dragon Resilience
launched from the Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday and reached a near-circular orbit at an altitude of 575 km above Earth and inclined 51.6 degrees to the equator. This is a similar altitude to the orbit of the Hubble Space Telescope and is significantly higher than the International Space Station which is currently in a 430 km orbit. It represents the highest altitude a crewed mission has reached since the early Space Shuttle missions in support of Hubble in the 1990s.
The mission, flown as part of a fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, was commanded by billionaire and pilot Jared Isaacman, with Dr. Sian Proctor, geophysicist and pilot, mission specialist Chris Sembroski, and cancer survivor and St. Jude physician assistant Hayley Arceneaux as crewmates.Inspiration4 Updates
The day before the deorbit burn, Resilience lowered its orbital altitude to approximately 365 km and aligned its ground track with the landing sites off the Florida coast.
Dragon’s forward hatch was closed at 5:32 AM EDT on the day of the landing. After the crew donned their launch and entry suits, they took their seats, with the seats then being moved into position for the reentry and landing.
On landing day, the deorbit sequence began with the separation of the “claw” that provided connections between the Dragon capsule and its trunk section, followed by the jettison of the trunk itself on time at 6:11 PM EDT.
The trunk houses systems including the spacecraft’s solar panels, but is not designed to be recovered. For the remainder of its mission, Resilience used onboard batteries to power its systems.
Five minutes after trunk separation, the spacecraft fired the four Draco thrusters mounted on its forward bulkhead to perform the deorbit burn. This lasted for 15 minutes, ending at 6:31 PM EDT. Following the burn flight controllers confirmed to the crew that it had been completed successfully and Resilience was on course for splashdown.
Shortly after the deorbit burn ended, Dragon’s nosecone was closed and the spacecraft reoriented itself to point its blunt heat shield in the direction of flight to absorb the extreme heat of reentry.
Resilience reached speeds of up to Mach 26 as it re-entered the atmosphere, going out of communications for a period of time when hot plasma surrounded the spacecraft as atmospheric friction slowed its descent. Communication was re-established after the craft reached the stratosphere, around the cruising altitude of modern jetliners.
Parachute deployment was expected to start at 7:02 PM EDT with two drogue chutes, followed by the main chutes about a minute later. These milestones were completed successfully. Although Dragon is equipped with four parachutes, it can still safely splash down if one of these were to fail to deploy, however during Saturday’s descent all of Dragon’s chutes performed nominally.
The spacecraft was piloted autonomously throughout the descent, although the crew had been trained to take manual control if necessary should an unforeseen problem occur.
SpaceX has a fleet of vessels at sea to support the Inspiration4 mission. In the Atlantic, their new support ship, Doug, is supporting the tug Finn Falgout and the drone ship Just Read the Instructions as it brings booster B1062 back to Port Canaveral following Wednesday’s launch.
Splashdown! Welcome back to planet Earth, @Inspiration4x! pic.twitter.com/94yLjMBqWt
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 18, 2021
GO Searcher was tasked with retrieving the capsule and astronauts if Resilience splashes down in the Atlantic, and returning Resilience to Cape Canaveral. GO Navigator, in the Gulf of Mexico, was in position to perform the recovery in the event the landing had occurred there. After a medical checkout the crew will return to Cape Canaveral aboard a helicopter.
A number of surface-to-space or “unlimited” Temporary Flight Restrictions were issued in support of Resilience‘s landing. These included areas off the coast of Daytona Beach, Melbourne, Jacksonville, Panama City, Pensacola, Tampa, and Tallahassee. Each unlimited TFR lasted for 30 minutes, although each area has additional TFRs running up to two hours afterward for recovery operations, that are in effect from the surface to 10,000 feet.
A second set of TFRs for a backup recovery window were in effect starting from around 3:00 AM EDT on Sunday, about seven hours after the primary reentry window, however this was not needed.
The Inspiration4 mission marks the first time that private astronauts experienced a splashdown at the end of their mission, as prior private space flyers on Soyuz missions and Blue Origin’s suborbital flights landed in desert areas, while Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and its predecessor SpaceShipOne made runway landings.
Although the spaceflight, including research conducted and imagery captured while in orbit, has concluded, the Inspiration4 mission to raise money for St Jude’s research and inspire the world about space exploration will continue beyond the crew’s trip to orbit. Multiple Crew Dragon missions for both government and private customers are scheduled for the next few years.
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