SpaceX Dragon cargo ship departs space station after stormy delays

A storm-delayed SpaceX spacecraft bid farewell to the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday (July 8) for the journey back to Earth.

The CRS-22 Dragon cargo ship undocked from the station's Harmony module at 10:40 a.m. EDT (1440 GMT), departing for a return to Earth and an eventual arrival in the the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Tallahassee, Florida.

It will take 37 hours for Dragon to return to Earth, with splashdown set for Friday, July 9, at 11:30 p.m. EDT (0330 July 10 GMT), NASA officials said in a live webcast, likely due to a 48-hour delay in departure caused by Tropical Storm Elsa surging along the eastern coast of the United States. Splashdown will not be broadcast live.

Related: SpaceX launches new solar arrays to space station, nails rocket landing at sea

Usually a Dragon ship returns to Earth within a day or two of undocking or unberthing, as some of the experiments are typically refrigerated. The experiments will be sent back to NASA's Space Station Processing Facility at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to minimize the effects of gravity on the samples, the press release stated.

But the agency said it would not rush the splashdown process. "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," NASA said in a Wednesday press release.

The CRS-22 Dragon cargo ship launched from Florida on June 3, 2021. (Image credit: SpaceX)

The ship, carrying 5,000 lbs. (roughly 2,265 kilograms) of equipment, experiments and other things, was supposed to depart the station on Tuesday (July 6) and then Wednesday (July 7), but continued high winds and dangerous conditions from Elsa forced delays.

The cargo ship departed the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 3 for a docking on June 5, carrying 7,300 lbs. (3,311 kg) of supplies for the space station crew. Among its cargo were new Boeing-built ISS Roll-Out Solar Arrays that spacewalking astronauts have been deploying this month to boost power levels on the ISS. (The older arrays are still working, but are beyond their design lifetime and showing expected power declines.)

The CRS-22 Dragon cargo ship approaching the International Space Station on June 5, 2021. (Image credit: NASA)

In NASA's words, some of the key experiments Dragon will return from space include:

  •  Lyophilization-2, which "examines how gravity affects freeze-dried materials and could result in improved freeze-drying processes for pharmaceutical and other industries." 
  •  Molecular Muscle Experiment-2, which "tests a series of drugs to see whether they can improve health in space, possibly leading to new therapeutic targets for examination on Earth." 
  •  Oral Biofilms in Space, which "studies how gravity affects the structure, composition, and activity of oral bacteria in the presence of common oral care agents." 

SpaceX's next cargo ship, Dragon CRS-23, is expected to launch from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on Aug. 18, according to Spaceflight Now's worldwide launch schedule. The flight will be the 23rd mission by SpaceX conducted under a Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: