Boeing’s crewless space taxi, CST-100 Starliner, one step closer to NASA certification, as it enters orbit carrying supplies for International Space Station
Big relief for aero giant after its unmanned Starliner astronaut capsule successfully launched into space on Thursday evening.
The CST-100 Starliner is carrying supplies for the International Space Station (ISS), and is scheduled to dock with it on Friday evening.
The CST-100 Starliner took off at 6:54 pm ET Thursday, riding atop an Atlas V rocket that launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
After the rocket delivered the capsule into orbit, the spacecraft fired up its own thrusters to orient it in the right direction.
Boeing officials confirmed the Starliner’s “orbital insertion” – a sign the spacecraft is on the right path – about half an hour after liftoff.
“Sixteen minutes after the Boeing CST-100 Starliner separated from the Atlas’ dual-engine Centaur, Starliner completed the orbital insertion burn and is now flying in its intended orbit,” Boeing announced.
“On its way toward the International Space Station, the Starliner’s unique vision-based navigation system used to autonomously dock with the orbiting platform as well as its new docking system cover will be thoroughly tested,” it said.
Boeing said the Starliner is targeted to dock to the station at around 7:10 pm ET, Friday.
On board are some supplies for the astronauts already on board the ISS as well as a spacesuit-clad mannequin, named Rosie, after the World War II-era Rosie the Riveter.
Officials during a post launch briefing however revealed that the thrusters didn’t work exactly as intended.
“We had two to thrusters fail,” Mark Nappi, vice president and program manager of Boeing’s Starliner program, was quoted by CNN as saying. “The first one that fired, it fired for a second and then it shut down. The flight control system did was what it’s supposed to, and it turned it over to the second thruster.”
That thruster then fired for only about 25 seconds before shutting down, according to Nappi. The flight control system again took over and kicked on a third thruster, which fired as intended.
“The system is designed to be redundant and it preformed like it was supposed to,” Nappi told reporters Thursday night.
Third time the charm
This is the third time that Boeing has attempted to launch the CST-100 Starliner capsule.
In 2019 software failures scuppered CST-100 Starliner capsule debut attempt to dock at the space station.
And then in August 2021 Boeing attempted a launch, but this was cancelled due to a problem with jammed valves in the spacecraft’s propulsion system.
In October 2021 Boeing confirmed the fix for the jammed valves would take longer than expected, and rolled back the uncrewed test flight until mid-2022.
But now it has successfully launched.
The CST-100 Starliner capsule is designed to carry seven people, and is meant to be launched on top of an Atlas V rocket.
It is designed essentially to be a space taxi, and should automatically dock with the International Space Station for at least four days, and eventually land back on Earth via parachutes.
Once it is declared operational, the CST-100 Starliner capsule will mostly carrier NASA astronauts to and from the space station.
This is important now, as using Russian launch facilities is now out of the question with its illegal invasion of Ukraine.
Boeing has been developing Starliner since 2014 when NASA selected the company, along with SpaceX, to develop space capsules that could carry astronauts to and from the space station.