Boeing Starliner capsule docks at space station in uncrewed flight test

Cape Canaveral, Florida, May 20 (Reuters) – Boeing (ban) A new Starliner crew capsule docked for the first time at the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday, completing a key target on a high-stakes test flight to orbit without astronauts on board.

The gumdrop-shaped CST-100 Starliner’s rendezvous with the orbital search site, which currently has a crew of seven, occurred about 26 hours after the capsule was launched from the US Space Force Base Cape Canaveral in Florida.

Starliner took off on Thursday aboard an Atlas V rocket delivered by Boeing Lockheed Martin (LMT.N) The joint venture United Launch Alliance (ULA) reached its intended initial orbit after 31 minutes despite the failure of two thrusters on board.

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Boeing said the two defective thrusters pose no threat to the rest of the spaceflight, which comes after more than two years of delays and costly engineering setbacks in a program designed to give NASA another vehicle to send its astronauts to and from orbit.

They docked with the International Space Station at 8:28 p.m. EDT (0028 GMT Saturday) as the two vehicles flew 271 miles (436 km) over the Southern Indian Ocean off the coast of Australia, according to commentators in a live online broadcast from the agency. NASA Link.

This was the first time a spacecraft from each of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program partners had been physically connected to the space station at the same time. The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule has been docked to the space station since the delivery of four astronauts to the International Space Station in late April.

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Pompeii’s way back into orbit

Much was riding on the outcome, after the ill-fated first test flight in late 2019 nearly ended with the vehicle missing after a software glitch that effectively frustrated the spacecraft’s ability to reach the space station.

Subsequent problems with the Starliner propulsion system, provided by Aerojet Rocketdyne (AJRD.N)Last summer, Boeing prompted Boeing to dismantle a second attempt to launch the capsule.

Starliner remained idle for another nine months as the two companies sparred over why the fuel valves had stopped shutting off and which company was responsible for fixing them, Reuters reported last week. Read more

Boeing said it eventually resolved the issue with an interim solution and plans to redesign after this week’s flight.

Besides searching for the cause of the thruster malfunctions shortly after Thursday’s launch, Boeing said it was monitoring some unexpected behavior detected with its Starliner thermal control system, but that capsule temperatures remained stable.

“This is all part of the learning process to operate a Starliner in orbit,” Boeing mission commentator Steve Sisseloff said during a NASA webcast.

The capsule is scheduled to leave the space station on Wednesday for its return trip to Earth, ending with an air-cushioned parachute in the New Mexico desert.

Success is seen as pivotal to Boeing as the Chicago-based company seeks to emerge from successive crises in its aircraft business and its space defense unit. The Starliner program alone has cost nearly $600 million in engineering setbacks since the 2019 accident.

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If all goes well with the current mission, Starliner could move its first team of astronauts to the space station as early as the fall.

Currently, the only passenger was a research dummy, whimsically named Rosie Rocketer and wearing a blue flight suit, strapped to the commander’s seat and collecting data on crew cabin conditions during the flight, as well as 800 pounds (363 kg) of cargo to be delivered to the space station. .

The orbital platform is currently occupied by a crew of three NASA astronauts, one European Space Agency astronaut from Italy, and three Russian cosmonauts.

The Director General of the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, noted the docking in a social networking site on Saturday, adding: “The station is not in danger. On board the Russian part of the International Space Station there is a system.”

Since the resumption of manned flights to orbit from US soil in 2020, nine years after the end of the space shuttle program, the US space agency has had to rely solely on Falcon 9 rockets and Crew Dragon capsules from Elon Musk’s SpaceX to transport NASA astronauts.

Previously, the only other option for access to the orbiting laboratory was to board the vehicles aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

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(Reporting by Joey Roulette in Cape Canaveral, Florida; Additional reporting by Lydia Kelly in Melbourne. Additional writing and reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maller and Bradley Perrett

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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