Boeing capsule approaches ISS in key test

The capsule lifted off Thursday night from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Docking with the ISS is scheduled for 8:10 p.m. (Brasilia time), NASA confirmed. The vehicle “continues to work well”, assured the agency in its blog.

Starliner followed the correct course, but had problems with two of the 12 thrusters used for the maneuver. However, the anomaly, which is being investigated by agency engineers, is unlikely to affect the mission, NASA spokespersons said at a press conference after the launch.

“Overall, the spacecraft is performing very well,” said Steve Sitch, director of the agency’s commercial crew program.

One of Starliner’s 12 orbital maneuvering and attitude control thrusters failed after one second, at which time the second thruster ignited but also shut down after 25 seconds. The ship’s software then activated a third thruster, which completed the necessary burn.

These thrusters will be used to bring the capsule closer to the ISS and help lift the spacecraft out of orbit at the end of the mission.

The success of the mission is essential to repair the reputation of Boeing, damaged since its first failure in 2019. At the time, the attempt to dock with the ISS failed due to software errors, which represented excessive consumption of fuel to reach its destination and even the possibility of destroying the ship on its return.

A second attempt was planned for August last year, but was delayed moments before launch to fix a valve problem, and the capsule had to be sent back to the factory.

NASA is seeking to certify Starliner as a second “taxi” service for astronauts to the ISS, a role Elon Musk’s SpaceX has already played since the success in 2020 of its test mission with the Dragon capsule.

– Reimbursement day –

The two companies won fixed-value contracts of $4.2 billion for Boeing and $2.6 billion for SpaceX in 2014, shortly after the Space Shuttle program ended, at a time when the United States United depended on Russian Soyuz rockets to reach the orbiting laboratory.

Boeing, with its century-old history, was seen by many as a safe bet against the virtually inexperienced SpaceX. But Musk’s company recently sent its fourth routine team to the research platform as Boeing development delays cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars.

Starliner is expected to dock with the ISS approximately 24 hours after launch and deliver more than 226 kg of cargo, including food and other supplies such as clothing or sleeping bags, to the crew.

Its only passenger is a doll named Rosie the Rocketeer – a pun on the star of America’s WWII recruiting campaign – whose job it is to collect flight data with sensors on what humans should experience .

“We’re a little jealous of Rosie,” said NASA astronaut Mike Fincke, who is expected to be among the first crew selected for a demonstration mission if successful.

The capsule will spend about five days in space, before undocking and returning to Earth on May 25, using giant parachutes to land in the western United States desert.

NASA deems it necessary to have a second low-Earth-orbit travel provider in the event of a problem with SpaceX.

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