The Starliner, the Boeing capsule, lands on the International Space Station for the first time – 05/21/2022 at 15:16


Boeing’s Starliner space capsule just meters from the International Space Station during an unmanned test flight on May 20, 2022 (NASA TV/-)

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, despite this empty test flight took place several years behind SpaceX.

Docking using the Space Station (ISS) occurred at 8:28 pm Eastern US time (00:28 GMT Saturday), more than an hour later than the originally scheduled time due to final checks during the maneuvers , which 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.

Finally, after a new controlled stop even longer than expected at 10 meters, the delicate final maneuver, carried out while the station was rotating 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 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 thrusters –

The Starliner flew from Florida on Thursday aboard a 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.

Data on Boeing's Starliner capsule, launched on May 19 (AFP/)

Data on Boeing’s Starliner capsule, launched on May 19 (AFP/)

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.

– Corrupt 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.

Boeing's Starliner space capsule just meters from the International Space Station during an unmanned test flight on May 20, 2022 (NASA TV/-)

Boeing’s Starliner space capsule just meters from the International Space Station during an unmanned test flight on May 20, 2022 (NASA TV/-)

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 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.

For the American space agency as well, the stakes are high, as it has invested heavily in the development of the vessel.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket flew, carrying Boeing’s Starliner space capsule above, on May 19, 2022 at Cape Canaveral, Fla.  (NASA/Joel KOWSKY)

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket flew, carrying Boeing’s Starliner space capsule above, on May 19, 2022 at Cape Canaveral, Fla. (NASA/Joel KOWSKY)

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 again risk, in case there is a problem for one or the other, to find themselves without an American “taxi” to the ISS.

After the shutdown of space shuttles in 2011, and until 2020, NASA has actually reduced payment for space on Russian Soyuz rockets.

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