WASHINGTON -- The unmanned commercial spacecraft launched into orbit Wednesday (Dec. 8) splashed down in the Pacific Ocean after circling the Earth twice.
Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX, Hawthorne, Calif.) said its Dragon spacecraft splashed down just after 2 p.m. EST, making it the first commercial vehicle to return from orbit. SpaceX said the test vehicle's three main parachutes opened on schedule to slow Dragon's descent after withstanding reentry temperatures of more than 3,000 degrees F.
Earlier in the day,. SpaceX successfully placed the unmanned spacecraft into orbit about nine minutes after liftoff from Launch Complex 40 at the Kennedy Space Center. An earlier launch attempt today was aborted, but the second attempt went off without a hitch.
The test flight is the first under a NASA program to promote commercial launch capabilities called Commercial Orbital Transportation Services. Dragon could eventually haul cargo and crews to the International Space Station. It is scheduled to rendezvous but not dock with the space station on its next flight.
SpaceX successfully demonstrated the ability to send a dummy capsule into orbit in June atop its two-stage Falcon 9 rocket. Today’s demonstration marks the first time the Dragon spacecraft was subjected to the friction and intense heat of reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere prior to splashdown.
View today's Falcon 9 launch here.