SpaceX has been resupplying the International Space Station (ISS) since it began flying cargo missions on behalf of NASA in 2012. Now, the version of the Dragon capsule that SpaceX first employed to fly those missions is retiring, after one of the spacecraft based on that design splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean on Tuesday afternoon, having returned from the ISS.
This marks the completion of CRS-20, the 20th Commercial Resupply Services mission that SpaceX has flown for NASA. The Dragon had been docked at the ISS since March 9, after taking off from Cape Canaveral on March 7. It was the last use of this model of Dragon, which also means it was the last time a SpaceX Dragon will need the assistance of the robotic Canadarm appendage used by the Space Station crew to facilitate docking — the newer iterations of Dragon, including Crew Dragon, use an automated docking process to attach to the orbiting science facility.
Prior to its return, the Dragon used on this flight was loaded with cargo for the return trip, including experimental materials and results that will be studied by researchers on the ground. This capsule also already made the flight previously to the ISS on two separate occasions, including for CRS-10 and CRS-16, making its retirement flight a hat-trick for the spacecraft.
Next up for SpaceX is Demo-2, the first-ever crewed flight of a Dragon to the ISS, which is currently planned for mid-to-late May. Cargo missions will also continue, with the next tentatively set for October 2020.