It’s done: the Starliner spacecraft is on its way to the ISS

The Boeing Starliner capsule took off again for the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday after two missions aborted due to technical problems. The vessel is to dock overnight Friday through Saturday. If successful, a first manned mission could take place next year. From then on, NASA will be able to count on two commercial vessels.

Starliner has took off this Thursday, May 19, capped atop an Atlas V rocket from United Launch Alliance (ULA). The duo ascended from Cape Canaveral, Florida, as planned at 6:54 p.m. local time (11:54 p.m. French time), kicking off a crucial test flight (OFT-2) for Boeing.

The capsule successfully separated from the upper stage of its rocket just under fifteen minutes after launch, over the North Atlantic Ocean. A little over a quarter of an hour later, Starliner completed its forty-five-second orbital insertion burn. The ship is now moving on a stable and circular orbiten route to the International Space Station.

Boeing plays big

As a reminder, this uncrewed OFT-2 mission is designed to demonstrate that Starliner is ready to transport astronauts to the ISS for NASA. Boeing was supposed to share the contract with SpaceX, which took a much longer lead. Elon Musk’s company has already transported astronauts on four operational missions to the orbital complex.

For its part, the Starliner capsule suffered numerous technical setbacks, each time delaying its certification. The latest dates back to last summer. Routine pre-flight checks at the time revealed more than a dozen faulty oxidizer valves in the ship’s propulsion system. It took engineers eight months to identify and fix the problem.

NASA is now counting on Boeing to add “different redundancy” to the agency’s regular rotation of crews to the ISS. This Thursday’s successful launch brings both parties closer to achieving this common goal.

Starliner takeoff. Credits: United Launch Alliance

Expected arrival tonight

The Starliner capsule is expected to reach the station overnight from Friday to Saturday, relying on an artificial intelligence system to help it lock onto the orbiting laboratory. The ship should thus be able to moor around midnight (French time). The next day, the crew members will then unload more than 180 kilograms of cargo sent for the current occupants of the ISS, mainly food.

Starliner will likely remain docked at the station for four to five days. Everything will depend on the weather experienced on the glide path. The craft is then scheduled to land in the western United States using a combined parachute and airbag system.

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It’s done: the Starliner spacecraft is on its way to the ISS


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