December 10, 2010
By Sarah Brown
Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) brought its Dragon capsule down safely from low-Earth orbit Dec. 8, making it the first commercial company to re-enter a spacecraft from orbit.
The company launched the Dragon capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 10:43 a.m. The unmanned capsule orbited the Earth at speeds greater than 17,000 miles per hour, re-entered the atmosphere, and parachuted back to earth, landing in the Pacific Ocean shortly after 2 p.m., SpaceX announced.
“Just the launch is difficult enough, but successful launch, orbit, and intact reentry have been accomplished by only a few nations to date,” said NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr. “The SpaceX mission today is the first time an entrepreneurial enterprise has joined this very elite company of space-faring entities.” Successful re-entry from low-Earth orbit had previously only been accomplished by the United States, Russia, China, Japan, India, and the European Space Agency.
The test flight was conducted under a NASA contract set up to encourage private industry to ship cargo to the International Space Station.
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