Boeing’s Starliner has successfully reached and docked with the International Space Station, completing an important step for a crucial test flight that would determine whether it’s ready for crewed missions. The unmanned spacecraft launched on top of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral and traveled for over 25 hours to reach the orbiting lab.
Starliner made its first attempt to reach the ISS in December 2019 but failed to achieve its goal due to a software issue that prevented the spacecraft’s thrusters from firing. In August last year, Boeing had to scrap its launch plans due to a problem with the spacecraft’s valves, preventing the company from planning another launch for almost a year.
While successful, Orbital Flight Test-2 wasn’t without its own issues. As The Washington Post reports, two of its 12 main thrusters failed shortly after launch, and its temperature control system malfunctioned. The docking process was also delayed by over an hour as the ground team ensured that the lighting was ideal and communications were working as intended. There was a problem with the spacecraft’s docking mechanism, as well, and it had to retract the system before extending it a second time.
Boeing said Starliner’s main thrusters failed due to a drop in pressure in the thruster chamber, but it’s not clear what had caused it. Company vice president Mark Nappi explained that since the thrusters are on the service module that’s discarded during the return flight, Boeing might never find out the exact reason for it. Still, NASA and the company plan to examine the other issues that occurred to understand them and prevent them from happening in the future.
Starliner will remain docked with the ISS for the next five days before making its return journey, which will see it land in the New Mexico desert. If the spacecraft successfully comes back to Earth, then Boeing could be sending astronauts to orbit as early as this fall.
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