Thomas returns to Earth – watch live

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Science & Exploration

08/11/2021
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After almost 200 days in space it is time to return to planet Earth for ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, JAXA astronaut Aki Hoshide and NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur.

Dinner for ten

Today at 16:45 GMT (17:45 CET) they will say farewell to their colleagues, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and Roscosmos astronauts Pyotr Dubrov and Anton Shkaplerov and enter their Crew Dragon capsule for the return home.

Watch the whole process live on ESA Web TV channel 2, from farewell to hatch closure, undocking to splashdown off the coast of Florida. The four astronauts in their Dragon capsule are expected to arrive on Earth at 03:33 GMT (04:33 CET).

Splashdown is scheduled for eight hours after undocking, an intense trip that will see the astronauts circle Earth around six times.

International Space Station in 2021

The departing crew, Crew-2, will put on their spacesuits for the ride home, that will protect them in emergency such as a loss of pressure or fire.

The hatches between the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour and the International Space Station will close and be checked for airtightness – a process that will take about an hour.

Undocking is a soft push off the Station as the hooks holding the spacecraft to the outpost are released, scheduled for 19:05 GMT (20:05 CET).

Before they head on their way, the Dragon’s thrusters will fire to orchestrate a slow and graceful fly-around of the International Space Station, a majestic last view of the outpost for the crew inside that will take almost two hours.

Dragon return from International Space Station – infographic

After the fly-around Crew-2 will distance themselves more from the Space Station and start circling Earth before kicking in the final phase of the voyage.

At 02:33 GMT (03:33 CET) the Dragon’s trunk used for external or unpressurised cargo will be discarded. It does not survive re-entry and is left to burn up harmlessly in the atmosphere.

The Dragon now consists of only the landing capsule with the four astronauts inside. A very long braking burn is next: the thrusters fire for over 16 minutes to decelerate and put the spacecraft on a path to splashdown off the coast of Florida.

So called drogue chutes are deployed roughly five kilometres above Earth, at around 03:29 GMT (04:29 CET). These small parachutes are dragged by the wind and pulled up like a kite pulling the main parachutes out with them. This occurs roughly three minutes from splashdown, from this moment the four astronaut will glide down on the parachutes and await the impact with the sea.

A boat will be nearby and come to collect the capsule and welcome the four astronauts home. From there they take a helicopter to the Florida, USA, mainland, and then aircrafts to their destinations. Thomas will change planes and get on a transatlantic flight to land in Cologne, Germany, accompanied by his flight surgeon.

Passing through our atmosphere the heat-shield protect the spacecraft and its passengers from intense heat from the friction of flying at huge speeds through air for the first time in 199 days. The heat generated from the friction is so extreme the spacecraft becomes surrounded by a ball of plasma, cutting all radio communication for over five minutes.

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