Boeing’s new Starliner crew capsule is docked for the first time with the International Space Stationcompleting an important goal in a crucial test flight in orbit without astronauts on board.
The rendezvous of the gumdrop-shaped CST-100 Starliner with the orbital research outpost, which is currently home to a crew of seven, took place on Friday, nearly 26 hours after the capsule launched from Cape Canaveral, U.S. Room Florida power base.
Starliner lifted off Thursday atop an Atlas V rocket supplied by the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture United Launch Alliance (ULA) and reached its intended provisional orbit 31 minutes later, despite the failure of two board 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 NASA another vehicle to send its astronauts to and from space.
Docking with ISS occurred at 8:28 p.m. EDT (Saturday 00:28 GMT) as the two vehicles flew 271 miles (436 km) over the Southern Indian Ocean off the coast of Australia, according to commentators on a live NASA webcast of the connection.
It was the first time that spacecraft from both partners of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program had been physically attached to the space station at the same time. A SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule has been docked to the space station since it delivered four astronauts to the ISS in late April.
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, supplied 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.
Boeing said it eventually resolved the issue with a workaround and is planning a redesign after this week’s flight.
In addition to looking for a cause of the thruster failure shortly after Thursday’s launch, Boeing said it was monitoring some 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 into orbit,” Boeing 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.
A success is seen as critical to Boeing as the Chicago-based company struggles to climb out of successive crises in its jet aircraft operations and its 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 only 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 conditions in the crew’s cabin during the voyage, plus 800 pounds (363 kg) of cargo to deliver to the space station.
The orbital platform is currently 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 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 company SpaceX to support NASA. pilot astronauts.
Previously, the only other option to reach the orbital lab was by piggybacking aboard Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft.
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