Boeing’s Starliner capsule is getting a major overhaul now that it’s back on Earth.
Starliner launched on May 19, beginning a pivotal unmanned demonstration mission to the International Space Station called Orbital Flight Test 2 (OFT-2). The spacecraft docked at the orbiting lab a day later and returned to Earth on Wednesday (May 25). touch as planned at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
OFT-2 is designed to show that: starliner is ready to transport astronauts to and from Earth orbit for NASA, which signed a contract with Boeing for such services in 2014. And NASA and Boeing don’t plan to waste time getting Starliner ready for manned flights.
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Speaking at a news conference shortly after Starliner landed on Wednesday, Mark Nappi, vice president and program manager of Boeing’s commercial crew, said teams would soon move the vehicle to a staging area to prepare it for shipment back to the facility’s facilities. company at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. in Florida, where it arrives around June 9. After that, Nappi said, Boeing will begin preparing Starliner for its first manned mission, known as Crew Flight Test (CFT).
That said, NASA will need to review data from OFT-2 before Starliner is certified for crewed flight. And there will be some issues to check, as the mission didn’t go perfectly smoothly. For example, two Starliner thrusters failed during his job insertion burn, which took place about half an hour after launch. (A spare thruster sprang into action at just the right moment and Starliner managed to complete the burn.)
A target date for CFT has not been set, and NASA and Boeing have not yet announced which astronauts will fly on the mission. However, leaders of both organizations have expressed hope that the test flight, which will take astronauts to the orbiting lab, will take place before the end of the year and have indicated details for a launch date and crew replenishment sometime this summer. can be completed.
Boeing isn’t the only company to have a contract with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. SpaceX also signed one in 2014 and has already launched four operational manned missions to the space station with its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule.
During Wednesday’s press conference after the landing, Steve Stich, manager of the NASA Commercial Crew Program, referred to a photo he had seen with both Starliner and Dragon docked at the space station.
“You know, I get a little bit of goosebumps talking about it because between Starliner and Dragon, that’s really what this commercial program was about all along – with these two different companies, with the great systems they’ve developed, make for transportation of the crew to the space station under this new commercial crew model,” Stitch said. “And the flight we just landed today shows that the Starliner is a great vehicle for crew transport.”
NASA astronaut Suni Williams is one of the few trained to fly the Starliner, and she has worked with Boeing teams during the development of the vehicle. Speaking at a press conference on May 18, Williams was already looking forward to Starliner’s return, saying: “We want the spacecraft to come back so we can begin testing the environmental control system… There is a lot of work ahead of us before we get to the manned flight, but we love it.”
OFT-2 was Starliner’s second attempt at an unmanned mission to the space station. During the first, which was launched in December 2019, Starliner software glitches and got stuck in the wrong lane for a rendezvous. And OFT-2 was due to launch last summer, but routine checks revealed more than a dozen stuck valves in Starliner’s propulsion systema problem that ultimately grounded the mission for more than eight months.
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