Cape Canaveral – Boeing’s new Starliner crew caps docked with the International Space Station (ISS) for the first time on Friday, fulfilling a major objective of a high-stack do-over test flight into orbit without an astronaut.
The reunion of the gamdrop-shaped CST-100 Starliner with the Orbital Research Outpost, about 26 hours after the capsule was launched from Cape Canaveral US Space Force Base in Florida, now has a seven-member crew.
The Starliner on Thursday boarded an Atlas V rocket equipped by the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture United Launch Alliance (ULA) and reached its intended orbit 31 minutes later despite the failure of two onboard thrusters.
Boeing says the two faulty thrusters pose no risk to the rest of the spaceflight, which comes after more than two years of delays and costly engineering hazards in a program designed to give NASA another vehicle to send its astronauts into orbit.
According to commentators on a live NASA webcast of Linkup, the docking with the ISS took place at 8:28 pm EDT (0028 GMT Saturday) when two vehicles flew 271 miles (436 km) over the South Indian Ocean off the coast of Australia.
This is the first time that both partners of NASA’s commercial crew program have physically connected the spacecraft to the space station at the same time. A SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule has been docked at the space station since delivering four astronauts to the ISS in late April.
The way back to orbit
Much had to do with the results after an unfortunate first test flight in late 2019 almost ended with vehicle damage due to a software error that effectively disrupted the spacecraft’s ability to reach the space station.
Due to a subsequent problem with the Starliner propulsion system supplied by Aerojet Rocketdyne, Boeing conducted a second attempt to scrub the capsule last summer.
Starliner was grounded for another nine months when the two companies argued over the cause of the fuel valve shutdown and which firm was responsible for fixing it, as Reuters reported last week.
Boeing says it has finally resolved the issue through a temporary solution and plans a new design after this week’s flight.
In addition to investigating the cause of the Thraster failure shortly after launch on Thursday, Boeing said it was observing some unexpected behavior with Starliner’s heat-control system, but that the capsule’s temperature remained stable.
“It’s all part of the learning process for managing the Starliner in orbit,” Boeing mission commentator Steve Siselph said during a NASA webcast.
The capsule is scheduled to leave the space station on Wednesday to return to Earth via an airbag-soft parachute landing in the New Mexico desert.
The Chicago-based company is seen as crucial to Boeing’s success as it shakes up its jetliner business and the ongoing crisis over its space defense unit. Since the crash in 2019, the Starliner program alone has cost about $ 600 million in engineering hazards.
If all goes well with the current mission, the first team of astronauts could fly to the space station early in the fall of Starliner.
For now, the only passenger was a research dummy, named Rosie the Rocketer and wearing a blue flight suit, tied to the commander’s seat and collecting data on the condition of the crew cabin during the journey, plus 800 pounds (363 kg) of cargo. Arrive at the space station.
The orbital platform is currently occupied by three NASA astronauts, an astronaut from the European Space Agency in Italy and three Russian astronauts.
Since the resumption of crude flights into orbit from American soil in 2020, nine years after the end of the space shuttle program, the US space agency has had to rely entirely on Elon Musk’s Falcon 9 rockets and crew dragon capsules to fly NASA astronauts.
Previously the only option to reach the Orbital Laboratory was to board the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. (Reporting by Joey Roulette at Cape Canaveral, Fla.; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Garman in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Mailer and Bradley Parrett)