The Starliner, Boeing’s space capsule, landed on Wednesday May 25, the successful completion of an important test mission for the company, which wants to prove its ability to bring NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). The capsule, with no passengers aboard, landed in the desert of the American state of New Mexico, at the base of White Sands, at 0:49 am French time. “A nice landing at White Sands tonight”said a commentator on the NASA video broadcast.
Its descent is slowed by its entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, then by large parachutes, and contact with the ground is coated by large airbags. The safe landing allows the American aeronautical giant to finally succeed in a mission from start to finish, after a failure in 2019. And, at the same time, to restore its image a bit, after being overtaken by SpaceX, which the capsule has been stored. used as a NASA taxi since 2020. Boeing wants to lease its services in the future to deliver its astronauts to the ISS.
The Starliner hatch was closed Tuesday by astronauts aboard the ISS. He was carrying his 270 kilograms of cargo, including reusable oxygen tanks, which would be filled on Earth and returned to orbit later. The Starliner flew from Florida on Thursday, May 19, and landed on the ISS for the first time the next day. In recent days, many tests have been conducted to verify the proper functioning of the vehicle, once connected to the flying laboratory. But the successful docking on Friday was a real relief for Boeing, after a failed first attempt in 2019. The Starliner had to return earlier than expected before arriving at the station.
After this first failed mission and a long period of adjustments, the test flight will be reviewed again in August 2021. But once the rocket was on the launch pad, the capsule valves were blocked due to a moisture problem. The ship had to return to the factory for repairs, within ten months.
This time, the flight to the ISS went smoothly, despite some drawbacks, specifically a problem seen with the propulsion system: two of the twelve thrusters used by the capsule to put itself on the correct trajectory after takeoff did not work. -off. .
However, NASA and Boeing officials confirmed the significance of the incident. The capsule was also eventually docked, due to a technical problem with the device that allowed it to be attached to the station.
A next test with man
After this mission, a second demonstration flight, this time with astronauts on board, will have to be conducted for the spacecraft to obtain NASA certification. Boeing expects to achieve this by the end of the year, then begin regular missions to the ISS. But the exact time depends on evaluating Starliner’s performance over the past few days. The US space agency has signed fixed -price contracts with both SpaceX and Boeing.
By using the two companies, it wants to diversify its options, so as not to again risk finding itself without American means of transportation, such as after the closure of space shuttles in 2011. Until SpaceX, NASA actually reduced to paying for seats on Russian Soyuz rockets.
Elon Musk’s company, still new to the aerospace industry compared to Boeing, has already brought eighteen astronauts to the ISS with its own capsule, Dragon, as well as four private passengers. during a space tourism mission.