This time the clocks are right in the space flight taxi. Almost two and a half years after the unsuccessful maiden flight, a Starliner astronaut capsule from Boeing is now on its way to the ISS space station for the second time.
In the new attempt, the docking should now be successful and the flight should not be canceled prematurely again, as in December 2019. The mission in Florida started on Thursday evening just before 7 p.m. local time, with which America’s largest aerospace company wants to prove that its engineers are after the previous mishaps are now able to launch a reusable astronaut capsule.
However, the mission has not gone completely smoothly so far. For example, 31 minutes after takeoff, two of the twelve attitude engines failed during a maneuver in orbit, and an emergency mode had to intervene and save the situation.
Nevertheless, Boeing spoke of a successful mission on the correct course. “Today feels really good and we have great confidence in the vehicle,” said Boeing manager Mark Nappi.
Other experts also expressed their confidence. The twelve engines become important when docking with the space station around 24 hours after launch and when returning to Earth in around five days. The capsule lands on parachutes and giant airbags on land.
For industry insiders, officially dubbed Orbital Test Flight 2 (OFT-2), the capsule launch flight on an Atlas V rocket is Boeing’s last chance to redeem its tarnished Starliner-building reputation.
First the premiere flight failed due to faulty software, incorrectly programmed clocks on board and other errors, then there were multiple postponements. In August 2021, a takeoff had to be aborted a few hours before the engines ignited because the fuel valves could not be opened.
The mishap is very costly for Boeing. The second flight including shifts costs the US group around 600 million dollars. NASA wants proof that the capsule works before a human is allowed to fly. So now only the sensor-packed test dummy Rosie is sitting on board alongside around 800 pounds (about 363 kg) of cargo for the crew of the ISS.
Boeing will receive $4.2 billion from NASA to develop the reusable capsule for up to seven people. Therefore, it should function smoothly, the US space agency demands.
At the beginning of the 2010s, in a competition (Commercial Crew Program), it financed the development of a space flight capsule alongside Boeing and its competitor Elon Musk with SpaceX. After the end of the space shuttle program, the Americans should get their own space capsule again so that they are no longer dependent on the Russian Soyuz capsule.
At $2.6 billion, SpaceX received significantly less money from NASA than Boeing, but has been much more successful so far. The SpaceX Dragon Crew capsule flew manned in May 2020.
This has since been followed by seven manned flights to the ISS – five on behalf of NASA and two space tourist missions. Apart from toilet technology problems, SpaceX didn’t have any major difficulties.
If NASA considers the current Boeing Starliner mission a success after landing, the US company could perhaps start a manned mission this year. Everything has to work now.
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