Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft docks with ISS on high-stakes test mission

Boeing’s Starliner capsule (L) docks with the International Space Station (ISS) on May 20, 2022. – Boeing’s Starliner capsule was preparing to dock with the International Space Station on May 20, 2022, during a high-stakes uncrewed test flight key to reviving the US aerospace giant’s reputation after a string of failures (Photo by NASA TV/AFP)

Boeing’s Starliner capsule docked with the International Space Station on Friday, a major milestone in a high-stakes uncrewed test flight as the US aerospace giant seeks to restore its reputation after past failures.

The spacecraft made contact at 8:28 p.m. Eastern time (0028 GMT Saturday), just over 24 hours after lifting off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a mission to prove it was capable to provide safe travel for NASA astronauts.

“The Starliner spacecraft completes its historic first docking with the International Space Station, opening a new route for crews to the orbiting laboratory,” an announcer said.

But the ship missed its scheduled rendezvous time by more than an hour due to technical issues – including one that required ground control to retract its mooring system and then redeploy it.

Starliner also encountered propulsion problems early in its journey, with two thrusters tasked with putting it into stable orbit failing, though officials insisted these were non-critical systems.

One of the 12 Orbital Maneuvering and Attitude Control (OMAC) thrusters located at the rear of the Starliner shut down after a second, at which point a second thruster fired and took over, but also cut out after 25 seconds.

The ship’s software then engaged a third thruster which completed the necessary burn.

“This system operated normally during all propulsion system demonstrations, and with redundancies in place, poses no risk for the remainder of the flight test,” said a NASA blog post about the issue.

Starliner’s success is key to restoring Boeing’s credibility after its first launch in 2019 failed to dock with the ISS due to software bugs – one that led to it burning too many fuel to reach its destination, and another that could have destroyed the vehicle during re-entry.

A second trial was scheduled for August 2021, but the capsule was taken off the launch pad to deal with sticky valves that weren’t opening as they should and the ship was eventually returned to the factory for fixes.

NASA is seeking to certify Starliner as a second “taxi” service for its astronauts to the space station – a role Elon Musk’s SpaceX has provided since successfully completing a test mission for its Dragon capsule in 2020.

Boeing’s Starliner (R) capsule approaches the International Space Station (ISS) on May 20, 2022. – Boeing’s Starliner capsule was preparing to dock with the International Space Station on May 20, 2022, during a high-stakes uncrewed test flight, key to reviving the reputation of the American aerospace giant after a series of failures (Photo by NASA TV / AFP)

seek redemption

The two companies won fixed-price contracts — $4.2 billion for Boeing and $2.6 billion for SpaceX — in 2014, shortly after the Space Shuttle program ended, at a time when the United States United depended on Russian Soyuz rockets for trips to the orbital outpost.

Boeing, with its century-old history, was seen by many as the hit, while then-upstart SpaceX was less proven.

In reality, it was SpaceX that took the lead and recently sent its fourth routine crew to the research platform, while Boeing’s development delays cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars.

Starliner is delivering over 800 pounds of cargo to the ISS on this mission.

Its only passenger is a dummy named Rosie the Rocketeer – a play on WWII campaign icon Rosie the Riveter – whose job it is to collect flight data with her sensors to find out what astronauts humans would live.

“We’re a little jealous of Rosie,” NASA astronaut Mike Fincke, expected to be among the first crew selected for a manned demonstration mission later this year if OFT-2 is successful, told a conference. press this week.

The gumball-shaped capsule will spend about five days in space, then undock and return to Earth on May 25, using giant parachutes to land in the western United States desert.

NASA sees a second provider in low Earth orbit as a vital backup, if SpaceX runs into trouble.

by Issam AhmedAFP

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