SpaceX launches Dragon space capsule to ISS

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption NASA’s Mark Kelly with the rocket on 8 June 2015

SpaceX has landed its third recovery attempt for the Dragon spacecraft it has been ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station.

The unmanned, reusable capsule made the safe touchdown on a landing pad at Cape Canaveral in Florida in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

SpaceX had previously landed two of the six-person spacecraft on autonomous droneships but had to abort its final attempt.

Tuesday’s successful landing meant the Soyuz-TMA-19M space station mission had reached its end.

“Congrats @SpaceX on a successful re-entry and landing of #Dragon in the Atlantic! Our crew is fine,” tweeted a NASA spokesman.

Previous landings

SpaceX’s most recent recovery, on 29 June, involved a drone ship in the Atlantic.

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On 8 June last year, the California-based space firm successfully brought its Dragon capsule back to Earth after SpaceX’s second historic space station fly-back.

That mission marked the world’s first successful re-entry of a spacecraft from Earth to a nearby orbiting laboratory after leaving the Moon, and was a landmark moment for the transport industry.

It also marked the start of the Commercial Resupply Services programme, in which private firms successfully fly supplies and cargo to the ISS.

The mission on which Tuesday’s SpaceX landing took place was not carrying astronauts, so there was no traditional press conference or after-action review.

Instead, former US Representative Mark Kelly, a veteran astronaut, tweeted his thanks to SpaceX, saying: “Your safe return to terra firma is a victory for #SpaceX’s mission to fly astronauts to the space station and humanity beyond. Thank you for making this possible. #InternationalSpaceStation.”

‘Record pace’

Last year, the SpaceX team set a world record in a previous attempt to retrieve the craft.

The Dragon capsule hit the sea just one second after it successfully entered Earth’s atmosphere – a timescales not seen before.

Fellow astronaut Douglas Wheelock said at the time: “It was really exciting to see the first capsule touch down on the drone ship, which was an incredible milestone.”

SpaceX, owned by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, is competing with rival firms to win one of two guaranteed US astronaut missions to the ISS from Nasa.

The company also plans to use a re-used rocket to carry cargo to and from the ISS and sent its first reused cargo craft back to Earth in June, less than three weeks after completing the re-entry and landing.

Watch astronaut Douglas Wheelock showing NASA how the routine landing happened:

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