Four US astronauts have landed on Earth from their historic space station trip, marking the first commercial trip by an American spacecraft, SpaceX and Nasa announced Thursday.
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Roughly 20 minutes after touchdown in California at 10:27 pm, the aircraft landed at the California Air National Guard’s weather-equipped “Touchdown Zone” at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Nasa said the craft would be dispatched again Friday to finish launching and landing at the military’s “Flight Test Range” at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
Since 2011, Nasa has been reliant on Russia to transport US astronauts to the International Space Station, where NASA astronauts make numerous orbital spaceflights.
Private US firms like SpaceX have been racing to boost their cargo and crew-carrying capability since the retirement of the US space shuttles in 2011.
SpaceX had expressed eagerness to provide such services, using the innovative Dragon spacecraft.
The first two launched in May 2016 aboard Falcon 9 rockets, but since April this year the two have used more expensive Atlas V rockets.
SpaceX chairman and chief executive Elon Musk said he thought the three-orbit flight had succeeded.
“Just landed after 5 hour & 39 min orbital chase. Feels like Top speed of 120 mph though! Still plenty of fuel left for a land landing,” he tweeted.
For its third flight, SpaceX had to retest a 30-second test firing of the rocket’s first stage.
During the mission, the craft delivered more than 8,500 pounds (3,900 kg) of cargo, including supplies for astronauts.
In November, the space station’s Expedition 57 crew returned to Earth, after 520 days in orbit.
The next commercial mission is slated for February. Nasa says it expects to require more SpaceX and Boeing flights at a time, but several more needs to be reached before the commercial crew program can get off the ground.