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SpaceX Dragon podule back from ISS, successful Pacific splashdown

First contracted cargo task done, despite rocket hiccup

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The SpaceX Dragon splashed down in the Pacific yesterday, marking the end of a mostly successful first contracted trip to the International Space Station.

The reusable cargoship dropped into the ocean yesterday evening around 250 miles off the coast of Mexico after resupplying the ISS and its crew. The Dragon was ferried to a port near Los Angeles where it will be prepped for its return to SpaceX's test facility in Texas.

Some of the cargo brought back by the capsule is due to be returned to NASA in the next couple of days, including research samples from the station's microgravity environment. The ship delivered 882 pounds of gear to the ISS, including scientific research and crew supplies. It returned with nearly twice that weight of stuff.

The Dragon uncoupled from the Harmony node on the end of the Canadarm as smoothly as it docked back on October 10. But the preceding launch of the capsule on the Falcon rocket didn't go quite as planned.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stack which launched the Dragon was also lifting a secondary cargo - an OG2 satellite, which burned up in the atmosphere after the Falcon failed to get it into position to settle into a good orbit. The rocket suffered an "anomaly" just over a minute after launch - a nozzle on one of the nine Merlin engines blew, forcing controllers to shut down the power to it.

The other eight engines had enough power remaining to get the Dragon and the satellite into space, but the Falcon second-stage couldn't do the second burn necessary to get the OG2 to its required orbit, as the earlier first stage problem meant this would have resulted in parts of the stack and payload flying through the space station's prohibited safety zone.

OG2-owner Orbcomm is sticking with SpaceX for its future launches though, sending two sats up in 2013 and 2014, this time as the primary payload on Falcon rockets. ®

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