Boeing’s Starliner capsule arrived at the International Space Station

Deepak Gupta May 21, 2022
Updated 2022/05/21 at 5:23 PM

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft docked for the first time with the International Space Station this Friday (Saturday morning in Portugal). As has been said, this unmanned mission was an important test for the company, which has the ambition to compete with Elon Musk’s SpaceX. So, this Saturday morning, just over 25 hours after launch, the capsule arrived at the International Space Station (ISS).

Starline will remain linked to the ISS for four or five days. Then, as planned, the capsule will travel back to Earth and land in New Mexico.

Boeing's Starliner finally made it to the ISS

Boeing's Starliner spacecraft successfully reached and docked on the International Space Station, completing an important step in a crucial test flight that would determine whether it is ready for manned missions. The unmanned spacecraft launched on top of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral and traveled over 25 hours to reach the orbital laboratory.

Starliner made its first attempt to reach the ISS in December 2019, but failed to reach its goal due to a software issue that prevented the spacecraft's thrusters from firing. In August of last year, Boeing had to cancel its launch plans due to a problem with the spacecraft's valves, preventing the company from planning another launch for nearly a year.

The docking with the ISS, which was scheduled for 00:10 (Mainland Portugal time, ended up happening at 01:28. That's because, shortly before 22:50 (Friday), when the spacecraft was 180 meters away from the ISS, controllers evaluated the monitoring and performance data of the capsule and believed that it would be in an inappropriate position. It was then necessary to execute a retreat maneuver.

According to Boeing, this maneuver was timely to demonstrate the capsule's maneuverability control capability.

At 00:08, this Saturday, the Boeing reported that the capsule was 10 meters away from the orbital complex, and that the team would hold a meeting to "ensure that both spacecraft are prepared for final approach".

Image of Boeing's Starliner docked at the ISS

Boeing's CST-100 Starliner docks with the International Space Station at 20:28 pm EDT on Friday, May 20, 2022, completing an important objective of the Unmanned Orbital-2 Flight Test. (Credit: Boeing)

Still during the approach, the controllers reported “a small problem” with the docking system, which delayed the process even further. According to NASA, it was necessary to remove the Starliner coupling ring and reset it to understand the problem.

Starliner also faced issues at launch

Boeing's Starliner capsule was launched Thursday night atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Launch Complex-41, a platform at the Force Station. US Space Station at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Starliner separated from the rocket's upper stage about 15 minutes after launch. A minute later, the capsule began the process of orbital insertion.

During this moment, two of Starliner's thrusters did not fire as expected. The first failed after just a second. Your backup was triggered immediately, but it also failed after 25 seconds. This activated a third booster pack backup, and the capsule was able to complete the crucial combustion without incident.

As was presented at the time by the company, the Boeing spacecraft is equipped with four groups of thrusters in its aft section, referred to in the industry nomenclature as “doghouses”. Each of these groups contains three engines of orbital maneuver and attitude control (OMAC), which are used to perform combustion in significant maneuvers such as reaching orbital insertion.

The two OMAC thrusters that didn't work, and the third that went in to compensate, were all in the same Starliner aft doghouseaccording to Boeing representatives.

As noted, the Starliner spacecraft will remain docked with the ISS for the next five days before making its return journey, which will see it land in the New Mexico desert. If the spacecraft successfully returns to Earth, then Boeing could send astronauts into orbit as early as this fall.

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