SpaceX has released more images and more details about the successful flight of Falcon 9 and the Dragon capsule that took place on December 8, making SpaceX the first commercial company in history to re-enter a spacecraft from Earth orbit. Here’s an image of Dragon safely on board a ship after splashdown. SpaceX said Dragon orbited the Earth at speeds greater than 7, 600 meters per second (17, 000 miles per hour), reentered the Earth’s atmosphere, and landed less than one mile from the center of the targeted landing zone in the Pacific Ocean. Wow, that’s some pretty good precision. See more images and details of the flight below.
The above image also shows a look at Dragon’s PICA-X heat shield, which SpaceX says is highly advanced. They worked closely with NASA to develop the heat shield, a variant of NASA’s Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator (PICA) heat shield, which NASA used for the Stardust sample capsule returned, which set the record for the fastest reentry speed of a spacecraft into Earth’s atmosphere — experiencing speeds of 46, 510 kph (28, 900 mph).
NASA made its expertise and specialized facilities available to SpaceX as the company designed, developed and qualified the 3.6 meter PICA-X shield in less than 4 years at a fraction of the cost NASA had budgeted for the effort. The result is the most advanced heat shield ever to fly. SpaceX said one heat shield can potentially be used hundreds of times for Earth orbit reentry with only minor degradation each time, and that this flight proved it. During the press conference following the successful flight of Dragon, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said this heat shield could even withstand the much higher heat of a moon or Mars velocity reentry.
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