Boeing’s Starliner capsule will be thoroughly examined now that it’s back to Earth.
Starliner was launched on May 19, kicking off a crucial unmanned demonstration mission for the International Space Station called Orbital Flight Test 2 (OFT-2). The spacecraft docked at the orbiting laboratory the next day, and then returned to Earth on Wednesday (May 25), tapping as planned at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
OFT-2 was designed to prove this Starliner is ready to transport astronauts to and from orbit for NASA, which signed a contract with Boeing for such services in 2014. And NASA and Boeing have no plans to waste time preparing Starliner for manned flight.
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During a press conference shortly after Starliner landed on Wednesday, Mark Nappi, vice president and head of Boeing’s commercial crew program, said the teams would soon move the vehicle to a rest area to prepare it for shipment to the facilities of the Boeing. company at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it is expected to arrive around June 9. So, Nappi said, Boeing will begin preparing the Starliner for its first manned mission, known as the Crew Flight Test (CFT).
That said, NASA will need to review OFT-2 data before certifying Starliner for manned flight. And there will be some issues to check, because the mission didn’t go perfectly smooth. For example, two of Starliner’s thrusters failed during its insertion burn into orbit, which took place about half an hour after launch. (A backup thruster fired at just the right moment, and Starliner was able to complete the burn.)
A target date for CFT has not been determined, and NASA and Boeing have not yet announced which astronauts will fly on the mission. However, leaders of both organizations expressed hope that the test flight, which will transport astronauts to the lab in orbit, will take place before the end of the year and indicated that the specifications for a launch date and complement of the crew could be finalized this summer.
Boeing isn’t the only company to hold a contract with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. SpaceX also signed one in 2014 and has already launched four manned operational missions on the space station with its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule.
In Wednesday’s post-landing press conference, NASA commercial crew program manager Steve Stich referred to a photo he saw with Starliner and Dragon docked at the space station.
“You know, I get goosebumps talking about it a bit, because, between Starliner and Dragon, this is really what this commercial program has always been about: having these two different companies, with the great systems they have developed. , provide crew transportation to the space station with this new commercial crew model, ”Stitch said. “And the flight we just landed today shows that the Starliner is a great crew transportation vehicle.”
NASA astronaut Suni Williams is one of the select few who trained to fly in the Starliner and worked with the Boeing teams during the development of the vehicle. At a press conference on May 18, Williams was looking forward to Starliner’s return, saying, “We want the spacecraft to go back so we can start testing the environmental control system … There is a lot of work ahead. to us before we get on the manned flight, but we’re chewing a bit. ”
OFT-2 was Starliner’s second attempt at an unmanned mission to the space station. During the first, launched in December 2019, Starliner suffered software defects and got stuck in the wrong orbit on a date. And OFT-2 was supposed to be launched last summer, but routine checks revealed more than a dozen valves stuck in Starliner’s propulsion systema problem that ended up blocking the mission for more than eight months.
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