Boeing’s Starliner capsule docks with space station during uncrewed flight test

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., May 20 (Reuters) – Boeing’s new Starliner crew capsule (BA.N) docked for the first time with the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday, completing a major goal in a test high-stakes overhaul flight into orbit without astronauts on board.

The gumball-shaped CST-100 Starliner’s rendezvous with the orbital research outpost, which currently houses a crew of seven, took place nearly 26 hours after the capsule launched from the base. of the US Space Force from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

Starliner lifted off on Thursday atop an Atlas V rocket provided by the Boeing-Lockheed Martin (LMT.N) joint venture United Launch Alliance (ULA) and reached its planned preliminary orbit 31 minutes later despite two boosters failing embarked.

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Boeing said the two faulty boosters pose 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 send its astronauts to. and from orbit.

The docking with the ISS took place at 8:28 p.m. EDT (0028 GMT Saturday) as the two vehicles traveled 436 km over the southern Indian Ocean off the coast of Australia, according to commentators on a live broadcast of the liaison by NASA.

It was the first time that spacecraft from both partners in 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 with the space station since delivering four astronauts to the ISS in late April.

BUMPY ROAD BACK IN ORBIT

Much hinged on the outcome, after an ill-fated first test flight in late 2019 nearly ended in the loss of the vehicle following a software glitch that effectively thwarted the spacecraft’s ability to reach the station. spatial.

Later problems with Starliner’s propulsion system, supplied by Aerojet Rocketdyne , led Boeing to cancel a second attempt to launch the capsule last summer.

Starliner was grounded for another nine months as the two companies argued over what caused the fuel valves to close and which company to fix them, as Reuters reported last week. Read more

Boeing said it finally fixed the issue with a temporary workaround and plans a redesign after this week’s flight.

In addition to investigating a cause of the propellant failures shortly after Thursday’s launch, Boeing said it was monitoring some unexpected behavior detected with Starliner’s thermal control system, but capsule temperatures remained stable.

“It’s all part of the learning process to operate Starliner in orbit,” Boeing mission commentator Steve Siceloff said during the NASA webcast.

The capsule is due to leave the space station on Wednesday for a flight back to Earth, ending with an airbag-softened parachute landing in the New Mexico desert.

Success is seen as essential for Boeing as the Chicago-based company scrambles to emerge from successive crises in its airliner business and space defense unit. The Starliner program alone has cost nearly $600 million in engineering setbacks since the 2019 crash.

If all goes well with the current mission, Starliner could send its first team of astronauts to the space station as soon as fall.

For now, the only passenger was a research dummy, whimsically named Rosie the Rocketeer and clad in a blue flight suit, strapped to the commander’s seat and collecting data on crew cabin conditions during the flight. voyage, plus 800 pounds (363 kg) of cargo to be delivered to the space station.

The orbital platform is currently occupied by a crew of three NASA astronauts, an Italian astronaut from the European Space Agency and three Russian cosmonauts.

Director General of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency Dmitry Rogozin noted the docking in a social media post on Saturday, adding: “The station is not in danger. On board the Russian segment of the ISS, there is order”.

Since resuming crewed flights in 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 company’s Falcon 9 rockets and Crew Dragon capsules. Elon Musk’s SpaceX to pilot NASA astronauts.

Previously, the only other option to reach the orbiting laboratory was to hitch a ride aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

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Reporting by Joey Roulette in Cape Canaveral, Florida; Additional reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; edited by Sandra Maler and Bradley Perrett

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