SpaceX’s Dragon capsule completed its return to Earth this morning with its first-ever nighttime splashdown, marking another successful space mission for the company.
First Ever Nighttime Splashdown
Bringing back equipment and experiments from the International Space Station, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule was released from the robotic arm that tethered the capsule to the ISS at 3:33 PM PST.
After several hours of long descent back to earth, the capsule parachuted into the Pacific ocean, splashing down around 9:15 PM. SpaceX had a ship standing-by to recover the capsule and carry it back to California where its contents will be off-loaded.
The nighttime splashdown, a first for Elon Musk’s space company, was helped by clear skies and moonlight, allowing Earth-bound observers to track the location of the capsule.
The Dragon Capsule arrived at the ISS on December 8th, bringing with it 3 tons of cargo, including food, other supplies, and experiments.
After spending weeks unloading the capsule and reloading it with materials to be returned to Earth, astronauts aboard the ISS had to wait several days to send the capsule back as concerns over inclement weather in the recovery area delayed the operation.
Good News during a Bad Week for SpaceX
The successful return of the Dragon capsule came after a bad week for Elon Musk’s company that saw it lay-off 600 employees, a tenth of its workforce.
The company maintains that the cuts were necessary to ensure the continuation of future projects.
“To continue delivering for our customers and to succeed in developing interplanetary spacecraft and a global space-based Internet, SpaceX must become a leaner company," read a statement from the company.
"Either of these developments, even when attempted separately, have bankrupted other organizations. This means we must part ways with some talented and hardworking members of our team.”
“We are grateful for everything they have accomplished and their commitment to SpaceX's mission," they continued. "This action is taken only due to the extraordinarily difficult challenges ahead and would not otherwise be necessary.”
Future SpaceX Projects
SpaceX’s future ambitions will indeed prove costly. While the company earns tens of millions of dollars every time they send a capsule into space and they have few competitors, it has taken billions of dollars of investment to get SpaceX to this point, with the company’s latest projects expecting to cost billions more.
Valued at $30.5 billion, SpaceX is not short on investors. It also received about $250 million dollars in loans during a loan sale last year.
The company will certainly need the money. Elon Musk estimates that SpaceX’s latest projects, its premier spaceship, and rocket system, named Starship and Super Heavy, respectively, would cost the company between $2 and $10 billion dollars.
SpaceX has plans for sending tourists into space to help finance its operations. Last year, Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese billionaire, made an undisclosed down-payment on a trip around the moon for himself and several artists when the technology is ready to take them, which Musk predicts can be as early as 2023.
SpaceX is also planning to one day beam down high-speed internet from a network of orbiting satellites, at a potential cost of about $10 billion dollars.
As for the Dragon capsule, SpaceX will continue its contract with NASA for the foreseeable future, hoping to begin ferrying astronauts to the ISS within the next couple of years.