Boeing’s Starliner capsule has passed a key test, despite some hiccups

Boeing's Starliner capsule has passed a key test, despite some hiccups

The capsule, which had no passengers on board, landed in the desert of the US state of New Mexico on Wednesday night.

The Boeing Starliner space capsule landed Wednesday night and successfully completed a key test mission for a company that wants to prove its ability to transport NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).

The capsule, which does not have passengers on board, landed in the desert of the US state of New Mexico at White Sands at 16:49 (22:49 GMT). “Nice Landing on White Sand Tonight”, a NASA video commentator said. Its descent was slowed by the entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, then by large parachutes and contact with the ground was dampened by large airbags.

Size issues

The bet was immense both for Boeing, which has been trying for years to make this test flight a success, and for NASA, which has invested several billion dollars in spacecraft development. In the future, he wishes to hire his services to transport his astronauts to the International Space Station. After a failure in 2019, a safe landing allows the American aviation giant to finally complete a successful mission from start to finish. At the same time, to restore the image a bit after it was overtaken by SpaceX, whose capsule has already served as a NASA taxi since 2020.

The Starliner hatch was closed by astronauts aboard the ISS on Tuesday. It will bring 270 kg of cargo, including reusable oxygen tanks, which will fill up on Earth and later return to orbit.

Repeated pitfalls

Starliner took off from Florida last Thursday and joined the ISS for the first time the next day. In recent days, many tests have been performed to verify the proper functioning of the vehicle when connected to a flying laboratory. But especially the success of Friday’s docking was a real relief for Boeing after the first attempt in 2019. At that time, Starliner had to return earlier than expected before he could reach the station. Landing was not a problem.

After this first unsuccessful mission and a long period of adjustment, the test flight was to be repeated in August 2021. But when the rocket was already on the launch pad, the capsule valves were blocked due to a humidity problem. The ship had to return to the factory for repair – for ten months. This time the flight to the ISS went well, despite several hiccups, especially a problem found in the propulsion system: two of the 12 nozzles that the capsules aimed at the correct trajectory after launch did not work. However, NASA and Boeing officials reassured the importance of the incident. The capsule also docked late, due to a technical problem with the device that allowed it to connect to the station. Problems that remain minor compared to previous pitfalls.

Another test with a human crew

After this mission, a second demonstration flight will have to be conducted, this time with astronauts on board, for the spacecraft to receive NASA certification. Boeing hopes to do so by the end of the year and then launch regular ISS missions. However, the exact timing will depend on Starliner’s performance analysis in recent days. The US Space Agency has signed fixed price agreements with both SpaceX and Boeing.

By using two companies, it wants to diversify its options so that it never again risks finding itself without American vehicles, as after the shutdown of the shuttles in 2011. Until SpaceX, NASA was indeed limited to paying for seats on Russian Soyuz Rockets. Elona Muska, a newcomer to the aerospace industry compared to Boeing, has already transported 18 astronauts to the ISS with its own Dragon capsules – as well as four private passengers – on the ISS during a space tourism mission.

SEE ALSO – Boeing’s capsule flies to the International Space Station for a test flight


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