Boeing’s new Starliner capsule has docked at the International Space Station and has accomplished an important goal in a high-stakes test flight into Earth orbit without astronauts on board.
The rendezvous of the CST-100 Starliner with the orbital research outpost, which is currently home to a crew of seven, took place nearly 26 hours after the capsule launched from Cape Canaveral US Space Force Base in Florida.
Starliner lifted off Thursday and reached its intended provisional orbit 31 minutes later, despite the failure of two propellers.
Boeing said the two faulty thrusters posed no risk to the rest of the spaceflight, which comes after more than two years of delays and costly technical setbacks in a program designed to give NASA another vehicle to carry its astronauts to and from orbit. To send.
👋 Hello, #Starliner! The @BoeingSpace human-rated spacecraft made its first arrival at the International @Space_Station docked at 8:28 p.m. ET (00:28 UTC). pic.twitter.com/gXceiHJhuB
— NASA (@NASA) May 21, 2022
Docking with ISS took place as the two vehicles flew 436 kilometers over the Southern Indian Ocean, according to commentators on a live NASA webcast of the link.
Much depended on the outcome after an ill-fated maiden test flight nearly ended in late 2019 with the loss of the vehicle following a software glitch that effectively prevented the spacecraft’s ability to reach the space station.
Subsequent problems with Starliner’s propulsion system, provided by Aerojet Rocketdyne, prompted Boeing to make a second attempt at launching the capsule last summer.
Starliner was grounded for another nine months as the two companies argued over what caused fuel valves to stay shut and which company was responsible for repairing them, Reuters reported last week.
At 9:30 p.m. ET (01:30 UTC), leaders from NASA and @BoeingSpace will participate in a media conference call at the #Starliner rendezvous and dock at the @Space_Station. Listen: https://t.co/4oTDBVN2pa pic.twitter.com/E7GAXobmGF
— NASA (@NASA) May 21, 2022
Boeing said it has finally resolved the issue with a workaround and is planning a redesign after this week’s flight.
In addition to investigating the cause of two faulty thrusters shortly after Thursday’s launch, Boeing said it was monitoring unexpected behavior detected with Starliner’s thermal control system, but the capsule’s temperatures remained stable.
“This is all part of the learning process to put Starliner in orbit,” Boeing’s mission commentator Steve Siceloff said during the NASA webcast.
The capsule will leave the space station on Wednesday for a return flight to Earth, ending with an airbag-softened parachute landing in the New Mexico desert.
Success is critical to Boeing as the Chicago-based company struggles to overcome successive crises in its jet aircraft business and space defense unit.
The Starliner program alone has cost nearly $600 million in technical setbacks since the accident in 2019.
If all goes well with the current mission, Starliner could fly its first team of astronauts to the space station as early as the fall.
For now, the lone passenger was a research dummy, whimsically named Rosie the Rocketeer and dressed in a blue flight suit, strapped into the commander’s seat and collecting data on the crew’s cabin conditions during the voyage, plus 800 pounds (362 kilograms) of cargo to deliver to the space station.
The orbital platform is occupied by a crew of three NASA astronauts, a European Space Agency astronaut from Italy, and three Russian cosmonauts.
Since the resumption of manned flights to orbit from US soil in 2020, nine years after the end of the space shuttle program, the US space agency has had to rely solely on the Falcon 9 rockets and Crew Dragon capsules from Elon Musk’s SpaceX company. To pilot NASA astronauts.