CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- The first operational commercial spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station was released back on it's own on Sunday after delivering fresh supplies and hardware to a crew of six.
Built and operated by Space Exploration Technologies Inc. or SpaceX, the Dragon cargo craft was launched from Cape Canaveral on October 7 with nearly 880 pounds of supplies for the station's crew.
During the craft's nearly three weeks docked with the orbiting complex, astronauts unloaded the new supplies and then loaded 1,673 pounds of cargo and trash, including several science experiments, for the return home. One experiment headed home contains living spiders.
Operated by ground controllers, the space station's 58-foot Canada-built robotic arm slowly eased Dragon back away from it's docking port at 7:19 a.m. EDT, 263 miles above earth.
The craft anchored at the end of the arm was moved out to 30 feet away before being released upon the ocean of space at 9:29 a.m.
Dragon's current mission is the first of twelve planned resupply flight's to the
orbital outpost in a commercial agreement valued at over $1.5 billion
with NASA during the next four years.
The supply craft is expected to leave earth orbit at 2:28 p.m. as the spacecraft fires it's engines for ten minutes to slow it's orbital speed down.
Dragon is the only unmanned supply craft to have a heat shield and
parachutes which can allow NASA to return space flown hardware and science experiments back to earth safely.
Splashdown is expected about 250 miles off the coast of Baja California at about 3:20 p.m.
(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science & technology. Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)