SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon spacecraft was set to splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean Thursday but as Tropical Storm Elsa churned up Florida’s west coast flight control teams are monitoring conditions that could impact recovery efforts at sea.
The spacecraft was set to undock from the International Space Station Tuesday at 11 a.m. but NASA officials announced the event had been pushed to no earlier than Thursday at 10:35 a.m. due to the extreme weather off Florida’s coast.
“NASA and SpaceX flight control teams continue to monitor the weather and splashdown locations and are prepared to support undocking of the Dragon cargo spacecraft once conditions are safe to do so,” NASA wrote in an update.
When it does happen, NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough will keep an eye on the spacecraft as it departs from the Harmony module’s space-facing port.
The Cargo Dragon spacecraft first arrived at the ISS on June 4 carrying 7,300 pounds of hardware, experiments and supplies. The spacecraft will complete its mission this week returning to Earth with some experiments conducted onboard the orbiting laboratory.
After a safe departure, Dragon will use its thrusters to move away from the space station before re-entry to Earth.
The SpaceX ship will splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean, however, Tropical Storm Elsa continues up Florida’s west coast NASA officials say the undocking and splashdown could shift if needed.
NASA Astronaut Megan McArthur shared images of Elsa from the space station over the weekend as the storm made its way toward Cuba.
The latest models of Elsa show the storm making landfall on Florida’s west coast, sparring the Atlantic Ocean recovery area for SpaceX teams to collect the spacecraft.
“Flight control teams continue to monitor the weather and splashdown locations. Certain parameters like wind speeds and wave heights must be within certain limits to ensure the safety of the recovery teams, the science, and the spacecraft,” a NASA spokesperson with Johnson Space Center said via email.
Dragon is carrying research from the ISS some of which require a temperature-controlled environment. Some of the research returning to Earth includes an experiment examining how gravity affects freeze-dried materials which could have impacts on pharmaceutical industries. Another experiment studying oral bacteria in space and a test with muscle cells are also set to return.
Post splashdown, the capsule will be brought back to Kennedy Space Center’s Space Station Processing Facility where the experiments will be handed off to researchers.
Should Elsa create unsafe conditions for recovery teams NASA said there are additional undocking opportunities. Cooling materials for experiments can be changed out if the departure delays.
NASA will provide updates on the undocking and splashdown at nasa.gov and live coverage of the undocking.