For the first time, Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft has docked at the International Space Station, opening up new possibilities for connecting Earth with the ISS.
Boeing’s capsule, Starliner, docked at the International Space Station for the first time on Friday, a success for the company, which will transport astronauts for NASA in the future, even though this empty test flight took place several years after SpaceX.
Docking with the space station (ISS) took place at. 20:28 US East Coast time (00:28 GMT Saturday), more than an hour after the originally scheduled time due to last check during maneuvers, meticulously choreographed 400 km above our heads.
Astronauts aboard the ISS and the control room in Houston closely monitored the approach. Starliner first leveled off about 250 yards from the station. Then, after moving slightly forward, the capsule withdrew to demonstrate that it could retract if necessary. Finally, after a new controlled stop, albeit longer than expected at 10 meters, the delicate final maneuver that was performed while the station was spinning at 28,000 km / h has been initiated. The vehicle approached slowly until contact.
230 kg supplies
“The Starliner spacecraft successfully completes its historic first docking with the International Space Station and opens a new route to the flying laboratory for crews,” said a commentator on the US Space Agency’s live broadcast.
The capsule hatch will not be open until Saturday. Boeing transports about 230 kg of supplies on behalf of NASA, including food. Starliner must remain anchored to the ISS for about five days before returning 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 had already been attempted in 2019, but the capsule had then encountered several problems and had to return without being able to reach the station.
Since then, Boeing has struggled to catch up with SpaceX, a newcomer to the space sector in comparison, but which has already been transporting astronauts for NASA since 2020, following the successful qualification flights of its own capsule, Dragon.
After this empty test, another one must be performed for the spacecraft to obtain NASA approval, this time with astronauts on board. The timing will depend on how Starliner performs this week, but Boeing plans to fly it before the end of the year.
Repeated setbacks at Boeing
Starliner took off from Florida on Thursday on top of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket. About 30 minutes after launch, the capsule had managed to position itself on the right track, but two of its 12 thrusters had failed. NASA and Boeing officials, however, downplayed the incident, which they said should not affect the mission.
The thrusters will be used again at the end of the mission, for the maneuver to bring the capsule back to Earth’s atmosphere. But the problem “does not need to be solved in advance” before then, the previous pushes had nevertheless worked, had assessed Steve Stich from NASA during a press conference on Thursday night. The system “does not pose a risk to the rest of the test flight,” NASA also confirmed on its blog on Friday.
A mission that finally succeeded from start to finish would restore the image of the aviation giant a bit after repeated setbacks in recent years. In 2019, the capsule could not be placed in the right orbit due to a clock problem. Boeing then realized that other software problems had almost caused a serious flight anomaly.
So, in 2021, when the rocket was already on the launch pad to try the flight again, a moisture problem caused a chemical reaction that blocked the opening of certain valves in the capsule. She had had to return to the factory for an inspection – for ten months.