A SpaceX Dragon cargo ship made a parachute return into the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday, while high winds in Florida scrapped plans for the company’s Falcon rocket launch, NASA said. The Dragon capsule departed the International Space Station at 2:10 p.m. EST/1910 GMT and splashed down about 260 miles (418 km) southwest of Long Beach, California, about 5.5 hours later.
The Dragon is loaded with nearly 4,000 pounds (1,814 kg) of returning science experiments and equipment, including two faulty components from spacesuits that NASA wants to analyse before clearing astronauts for a trio of spacewalks later this month.
Dragon’s return overlapped with the company’s Falcon 9 launch attempt at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The rocket was grounded by high upper-level winds.
“Extreme wind shear over Cape Canaveral. Feels like a sledgehammer when supersonic in the vertical,” SpaceX founder and Chief Executive Elon Musk posted on Twitter.
SpaceX will try again at 6:03 p.m. EST/2303 GMT on Wednesday to launch the U.S. government’s Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR. The satellite is designed to serve as weather buoy to provide about an hour’s advance notice of potentially dangerous solar storms, which can disrupt radio communications, satellite signals and power grids on Earth.
It also will monitor the sun-lit side of Earth, tracking volcanic plumes, measuring ozone and monitoring droughts, flooding and fires.
The launch of DSCOVR was planned for Sunday, but was delayed due to a problem with an Air Force radar system needed to track the Falcon rocket during flight.
Once the satellite is on its way to orbit, eventually reaching 930,000 miles (1.5 million km) from Earth, SpaceX plans to attempt to land the Falcon launcher’s spent first stage, part of ongoing efforts to develop reusable rockets, potentially slashing launch costs.
The booster is programmed to separate itself three minutes after liftoff, turn around, make two braking burns and touch down on a platform floating about 370 miles (595 km) northeast of the launch site.
The last Falcon rocket to fly nearly made it back intact, but it ran short of hydraulic fluid to maneuver steering fins and it crashed into the platform. For the second attempt, engineers added an extra reservoir of hydraulic fluid, but the rocket will be coming in with nearly twice the force and four times the heat, SpaceX said.
“Rocket re-entry will be much tougher this time around due to deep space mission,” Musk wrote on Twitter.