Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft is officially on its way to the International Space Station (ISS) after 2.5 years of delays.
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket was launched from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Thursday (May 19) at 6:54 PM EDT (2254 GMT), bringing Starliner aloft on an unmanned mission called Orbital Flight Test 2 (OFT-2).
If all goes according to plan, Starliner will dock with the ISS on Friday evening (May 20) and spend four to five days attached to the orbiting laboratory before returning to Earth for a parachute landing in the western United States Success on all these fronts would likely prove that the Boeing spacecraft is ready to transport NASA astronauts to and from the station.
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Starliner entered the correct orbit after separating from the Atlas V Thursday, a huge milestone for Boeing and NASA. After all, the capsule was unable to meet with the ISS during the original OFT in December 2019 after undergoing some software defects shortly after launch. And it failed to take off when OFT-2 first came out on the pad last summer; pre-launch checks revealed malfunctioning valves in Starliner’s propulsion system, a problem that took about eight months to resolve.
The takeoff of OFT-2 was a major milestone for ULA as well, marking the 150th launch for the missile company, which is a joint effort of Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
At a post-launch press conference on Thursday evening, experts from NASA and Boeing were quick to congratulate their various teams on the hard work that led to the successful launch.
“Today was just a big day for the commercial crew,” said Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew program. While listing the obstacles and launch milestones of the day’s events, he also mentioned a minor Starliner malfunction.
During the spacecraft’s orbital insertion burn, which occurred 31 minutes after takeoff, two of Starliner’s thrusters did not fire as expected. The first failed after only a second. His backup activated immediately and he was able to fire for another 25 seconds before he too failed. The redundancy failsafees activated a tertiary backup for the powertrain and the Starliner was able to complete the crucial burn without incident.
The Boeing spacecraft is equipped with four of these thruster assemblies in its stern section, referred to in the industrial nomenclature as “dog kennels”, each containing three orbital maneuvering and attitude control (OMAC) thrusters used to perform burns. maneuvers such as those that reach the orbital insertion. The two OMAC thrusters that malfunctioned and the third that stepped in to compensate were all in the same kennel in the aft section of the Starliner, Boeing representatives said.
“The system is designed to be redundant and has worked as it should. Now the team is working on the ‘why’ as to why these anomalies occurred,” said Mark Nappi, vice president and program manager for commercial crew. of Boeing program.
Nappi stressed that the problem did not have to be solved before the completion of the OFT-2 mission. During the briefing, Stich pointed out that Starliner had performed a second significant burn with the same OMAC thrusters, setting him on course to meet with the International Space Station.
“That second burn we did … he used that third thruster in that kennel, and it worked well for the whole burn. So, it doesn’t look like something that is common to all three of them. And, like Mark [Nappi] said, they started shooting well. The first fired and the second responded, fired for 25 seconds, ”Stitch said.
“So, we’ll just have to do a little more troubleshooting and see if we can figure out why those two thrusters didn’t complete that orbit insertion burn,” he added.
Starliner will reach the space station on Friday evening (May 20). Once within approximately 2 miles (3 kilometers) of the orbiting lab, the spacecraft will demonstrate stop-and-retreat maneuvers before moving to dock at around 19:10 EDT (2310 GMT).
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