The Starliner, the Boeing capsule, landed on the International Space Station for the first time

Boeing’s capsule, Starliner, docked at the International Space Station for the first time on Friday, a victory for the company that should be future transport astronauts for NASA, even with this empty test flight took place several years behind SpaceX.

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The docking using the Space Station (ISS) occurred at 8:28 pm US East Coast Time (00:28 GMT Saturday), more than an hour behind the originally scheduled time due to ultimo. tests during the maneuvers, which were meticulously choreographed 400 km above our heads.

Astronauts aboard the ISS, and the control room in Houston, are closely monitoring the approach. The Starliner first hit about 250 yards from the station. Then, after a slight advance, the capsule is retracted to show that it can be retracted if necessary.

The Starliner, the Boeing capsule, landed on the International Space Station for the first time

Finally, after another controlled stop, although longer than expected at 10 meters, the meticulous final maneuver, performed while the station was accelerating at 28,000 km/h, was initiated. Slowly the car approached, until it came together.

“The Starliner spacecraft has successfully completed its historic first docking at the International Space Station, opening a new route to the flying laboratory for crews,” a commentator said on the U.S. space agency’s live broadcast.

The capsule hatch will not open until Saturday. Boeing carries approximately 230 kg of supplies on behalf of NASA, including food.

The Starliner must remain docked on the ISS for about five days, before descending back to Earth to land in the desert of the U.S. state of New Mexico, at the base of White Sands.

This unmanned test flight was already tested in 2019, but the capsule encountered some problems and had to return without reaching the station.

Since then, Boeing has struggled to catch up with SpaceX, a newcomer to the aerospace sector by comparison, but has been delivering astronauts for NASA since 2020, after successful qualifying flights of its own capsule, the Dragon.

bug of thrusters

The Starliner flew from Florida on Thursday over the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket.

About 30 minutes after launch, the capsule placed itself on the correct trajectory, but two of its 12 thrusters failed. NASA and Boeing officials, however, ignored the incident, saying it should not affect the mission.

The Starliner, the Boeing capsule, landed on the International Space Station for the first time

The thrusters will be used again at the end of the mission, for the maneuver intended to return the capsule to the Earth’s atmosphere. But the problem was not an a priori “need to be solved” at the time, previous pushes would nevertheless work, NASA’s Steve Stich estimated at a press conference Thursday night.

The system “poses no risk for the remaining test flight,” NASA also confirmed on its blog on Friday.

Broken image

A mission that is finally successful from start to finish will restore a bit the image of the aeronautical giant, after repeated setbacks in recent years.

In 2019, the capsule could not be placed in the correct orbit due to a clock problem. Boeing then realized that other software problems had almost caused a serious flight anomaly.

Then, in 2021, when the rocket was already on the launch pad to try to fly again, a humidity problem caused a chemical reaction that blocked the opening of several valves in the capsule. He had to return to the factory for an inspection — within ten months.

After this empty test, a second needs to be taken for the spacecraft to get NASA approval, this time with astronauts on board. The timing depends on how the Starliner performs this week, but Boeing plans to fly it by the end of the year.

The Starliner, the Boeing capsule, landed on the International Space Station for the first time

For the American space agency as well, the stakes are high, as it has invested heavily in the development of the vessel. NASA has fixed-price contracts with Boeing and SpaceX worth billions of dollars.

Choosing to use two companies should make it possible to encourage competition and not to re -risk, in the event of a problem for one or the other, that would end without an American “taxi” to the ISS. After the closure of space shuttles in 2011, and until 2020, NASA has actually reduced payment for space on Russian Soyuz rockets.

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