Cape Canaveral - The first privately developed ship to travel to the International Space Station returned home on Thursday, completing a pioneering mission for commercial firms seeking a major role in space travel.
Riding beneath three parachutes, the bell-shaped SpaceX Dragon capsule ended a nine-day space flight and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, 900km west of Baja, California, at 4.42pm South African time.
Dragon, built and flown by Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, returned home with cargo from the $100 billion space station, where it had spent the past six days.
“It really couldn’t have gone better,” SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk said.
“I’m overwhelmed with joy.”
The US has been without its own transportation to the station, a project of 15 nations, since its space shuttles were retired last year.
Rather than build and operate a government-owned replacement, Nasa is investing in companies such as SpaceX, with the aim of buying rides for its cargo – and eventually astronauts – on commercial vehicles, a far cheaper alternative.
The test flight will likely clear SpaceX to begin working on its 12-flight, $1.6bn Nasa contract to fly cargo to the station.
A second commercial freighter, built by Orbital Sciences Corp, is expected to debut this year
Orbital has a similar contract valued at $1.9bn to deliver space station cargo. – Reuters