The new Boeing Starliner capsule was due to return to Earth from the International Space Station (ISS) on Wednesday from its maiden uncut journey, completing a high-stack test flight as NASA’s next spacecraft to take humans into orbit.
Less than a week after launching from Cape Canaveral US Space Force Base in Florida, the CST-100 Starliner was scheduled to depart autonomously from the space station at 2:36 pm EDT (1836 GMT) – plus a return flight.
If all goes according to plan, the mission will end with a fiery atmospheric re-entry with gumdrop-shaped craft and then an airbag-cushioned parachute landing in the desert near White Sands, New Mexico at 6:49 p.m. (2249).
The Starliner was launched into orbit last Thursday on an Atlas V rocket equipped by the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture United Launch Alliance and achieved its original goal of joining ISS despite four of its multiple onboard thrusters failing on the way.
During the final process of the capsule on the space station, which orbited the space station about 270 miles (430 kilometers), Boeing engineers had to come up with a solution for the thermal control error.
But NASA and Boeing officials say none of the problems they’ve encountered so far have prevented Starliner from returning safely, and they’ve created such snuff in the process of learning to build a new spacecraft.
A successful mission would replace the Starliner, a major step closer to providing a second reliable way to ferry astronauts to and from the space station, due to repeated delays and costly engineering disasters.
Since the resumption of crude flights into orbit from American soil in 2020, nine years after the end of the space shuttle program, the US space agency has had to rely solely on the Falcon 9 rocket and crew dragon capsules of billionaire Elon Musk’s private company SpaceX.
Previously, the only other option to reach the orbit was to board the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, which is currently a less attractive option in light of US-Russian tensions over the war in Ukraine.
There’s a lot going on for Boeing, too, as the Chicago-based company is shaking up its jetliner business and space-defense unit to come out of the ongoing crisis. The Starliner program alone has cost the company about $ 600 million in the last 2 1/2 years.
One of Starliner’s unfortunate first orbital test flights in late 2019 almost ended with vehicle damage due to a software error that effectively disrupted the spacecraft’s ability to reach the space station.
Due to a subsequent problem with the Starliner propulsion system supplied by Aerojet Rocketdyne, Boeing conducted a second attempt to scrub the capsule last summer.
Starliner was grounded for another nine months when the two companies clashed over the cause of the fuel valve shutdown and which firm was responsible for fixing it.
The two-over test mission, which ended on Wednesday, could pave the way for Starliner’s first astronaut crew to reach the space station, NASA said.
There are currently three US NASA astronauts, one Italian astronaut from the European Space Agency and three Russian astronauts in orbit.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)