(Washington) Boeing’s Starliner capsule is on its way to Earth, where it will land Wednesday night after six days in space, the final key step in its test mission to establish a new mode of transportation to the space station. International (ISS).
The capsule, which has no passengers on board, departed the ISS as scheduled at 2:36 p.m. ET and will land at 6:49 p.m. in the desert of the US state of New Mexico. , based on White. Beach.
“Starliner position confirmed,” Boeing’s space arm said on Twitter.
Its descent will be slowed by its entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, then by large parachutes, and contact with the ground will be cushioned by large airbags.
The stakes are high for both Boeing, which has spent years trying to make this test flight a success, and NASA, which has invested several billion dollars in developing the spacecraft. In the future, he wishes to contract their services to transport his astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).
A landing made without incident would allow the aeronautics giant to finally successfully complete a mission from start to finish, after a failure in 2019. And at the same time restore its image a bit, after being overtaken by SpaceX, whose capsule has already been serving as a NASA taxi since 2020.
Starliner’s hatch was closed on Tuesday by astronauts aboard the ISS. It brings with it 270kg of cargo, including reusable oxygen tanks, to be filled on Earth and returned to orbit later.
Starliner took off from Florida last Thursday and docked with the ISS for the first time the next day. Numerous tests have been carried out in recent days to check the correct operation of the vehicle once connected to the flight laboratory.
But the success of Friday’s docking, in particular, had come as a real relief to Boeing, after a first attempt in 2019. At the time, Starliner had to turn back earlier than expected, before making it to the station.
The landing had not been a problem.
After this first failed mission and a long period of adjustments, the test flight was to be attempted again in August 2021. But when the rocket was already on the launch pad, the valves in the capsule were blocked due to a problem with humidity. The ship had to return to the factory for repairs for ten months.
This time, the flight to the ISS went well, despite a problem detected in the propulsion system: two of the 12 thrusters used by the capsule to put itself on the correct trajectory after lift-off did not work.
These thrusters must be re-ignited for Wednesday’s deorbiting maneuver, intended to return the capsule to Earth’s atmosphere. But NASA had assured that this error would not be a problem.
Next manned test
After this mission, a second demonstration flight will have to be carried out, this time with astronauts on board, so that the spacecraft obtains NASA certification.
Boeing hopes to achieve this by the end of the year and then start regular missions to the ISS. But the exact timing will depend on analysis of Starliner’s performance in recent days.
The US space agency has signed fixed-price contracts with SpaceX and Boeing.
By using two companies, he wants to diversify his options, never again risking being left without American means of transportation, as happened after the shutdown of the space shuttles in 2011. Until SpaceX, NASA was forced to pay for seats on Russian planes. Soyuz rockets.
Elon Musk’s company, still new to the aerospace industry compared to Boeing, has already transported 18 astronauts to the ISS with its own capsule, Dragon, as well as four private passengers, during a space tourism mission.
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