Monday, June 17, 2024

Boeing’s Starliner overcomes last-second problems to dock with the ISS


Boeing’s Starliner has successfully docked with the ISS — but not without some last-minute problems. The company’s first crewed test flight to the space station linked up at 1:34 PM ET after missing its first shot due to several thrusters malfunctioning. Astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Sunita “Suni” Williams plan to spend the next eight days onboard the ISS before returning to Earth.

The capsule docked with the ISS in an orbit about 260 miles over the Indian Ocean. The pair is now circling the planet at around 17,500 mph.

“Nice to be attached to the big city in the sky,” Wilmore spoke over comms to mission control in Houston after the successful docking. The capsule carries 760 pounds of cargo, including about 300 pounds of food and other supplies requested by the four US astronauts and three Russian cosmonauts onboard.

View from the ISS of the Boeing Starliner capsule approaching. Clouded Earth seen behind it.

View from the ISS of the Boeing Starliner capsule approaching. Clouded Earth seen behind it. (NASA TV)

Initially scheduled for 12:15 PM ET, the link-up was delayed after five of Starliner’s 28 reaction control thrusters went down. Several were lost due to a helium propulsion leak. NASA and Boeing concluded that the loss didn’t compromise the mission, and Wilmore and Williams restarted three of them, providing enough redundancy to move forward.

On Wednesday, a small helium leak was detected during liftoff and ascent. Later, two more leaks appeared.

The problems are emblematic of Boeing’s struggles to get its capsules certified for regular flights. Various problems and delays, including orbital flight test issues, valve problems, software glitches and a bum parachute system, have plagued Starliner. Boeing’s rival, SpaceX, reached the ISS for the first time in 2020, approximately when this Starliner mission was originally slated to launch.

Boeing is seeking NASA certification to join SpaceX as a regular ride to the ISS. The government agency wanted to have multiple private-sector ferries make routine trips to the space station. Despite Boeing’s troubles, it may get there in the end.



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