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Boeing’s Starliner has landed, but questions remain after an incomplete mission

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft lands at White Sands Missile Range's Space Harbor, Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in New Mexico

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft has landed safely at White Sands Missile Range spaceport.
picture: NASA / Bill Ingalls

A Boeing Starliner successfully touched down yesterday on the sandy surface of the New Mexico desert, marking the completion of the first comprehensive unmanned test of the spacecraft. It was a picture-perfect landing, but the six-day mission wasn’t without problems.

The Starliner CST-100 spacecraft It landed Wednesday at 4:49 p.m. local time (6:49 p.m. EDT) at White Sands missile port after spending six days in low Earth orbit. Starship the late from the space station with more than 600 pounds (270 kilograms) of cargo, including three reusable expendable nitrogen tanks for oxygen providing breathable air for ISS crew members.

Four hours after its disengagement from the orbital position, Starliner deployed three parachutes and six airbags to aid its smooth landing. A team will now transport the craft back to the company’s facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for processing.

The test flight is part of Boeing $4.3 billion Contract with NASA Commercial Crew Program To provide flights for astronauts to and from the International Space Station. But Boeing lagged behind in delivering a viable spacecraft after two previous failed test attempts, one in 2019 And one last year. Meanwhile, its commercial counterpart SpaceX (which has been awarded a $2.6 billion contract from NASA) has been Landing astronauts on the International Space Station The past two years so far.

It has been a long time since the completion of this comprehensive test flight, called Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2), but it is already clear that there were many problems during the mission.

The Starliner CST-100 spacecraft was launched on May 19 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. About 30 minutes after take off, One of the twelve thrusters responsible for the orbital maneuver has failedfollowed by a backup engine failure, as Steve Seitch, director of the NASA Commercial Crew Program, to explain At a press conference after the launch. An issue with equipment keeping the Starliner cool for a brief period on the mission also surfaced.

When it came time to rendezvous with the ISS, a ring responsible for latching onto the station failed to deploy in the correct manner, causing Starliner to miss its scheduled contact time by over an hour, according to AFP. Shortly after landing, the recovery team detected hydrazine vapor — an oily, flammable liquid that is dangerous to inhale — around the spacecraft. This lingering chemical, which temporarily forced the recovery team back in, may have been the result of the Starliner not burning all of its propellant, Stitch said during a briefing after the touchdown. He added that no leaks were detected.

Despite these issues, the team behind the mission remains optimistic. “We have a few things to work on … but I don’t really see any offers,” Stitch told reporters at the press conference. NASA and Boeing will now carefully analyze and scrutinize mission data, which will inform the following steps. Assuming the problems that occurred during OFT-2 were as minor as Stich made them, a manned test flight of the Starliner could occur later this year.

During a brief stint in low Earth orbit, the International Space Station crew was attended by the Starliner International Space Station crew, who presented a Video tour The spacecraft while it is docked. The crew even met Rosie the Rocketeer, an experimental model with 15 sensors to relay what astronauts would experience on board the spacecraft during flight. Although Rosie didn’t have much to say, NASA astronaut Robert Haines pointed to the dwarf in the commander’s seat, saying, “She got a great view out of her window there.”

Hopefully, Boeing will solve the Starliner’s problems before the spacecraft carries actual astronauts, not just Rosie.

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