Boeing’s Starliner unmanned test flight docks with the International Space Station for the first time

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Image: NASA/Joel Kowsky

On Friday night, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft successfully docked with the International Space Station as part of an uncrewed flight test for NASA’s commercial crew program.

The Starliner was launched from Space Launch Complex-41 on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. After launch into orbit, Starliner performed a series of systems demonstrations to verify that the spacecraft was “healthy” and could maneuver safely.

According to Boeing, ground controllers in Houston used Starliner’s autonomous systems to guide the uncrewed spacecraft through orbit, while astronauts on the space station monitored Starliner throughout the flight and sometimes commanded the spacecraft. space to verify control capabilities.

“Starliner has demonstrated a safe and autonomous docking and rendezvous capability,” said Boeing Space and Launch senior vice president Jim Chilton.

The spacecraft itself is equipped with a fully functional life support system, as well as other critical systems to help humans. For this specific test mission, the Starliner carried about 500 pounds of cargo from NASA and crew providers and more than 300 pounds of cargo from Boeing to the space station.

Read: Will Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, a SpaceX competitor, finally make it to the ISS?

Both Boeing and NASA said this flight test helps collect more data to help certify the spacecraft for manned missions to the International Space Station, where the Starliner can carry up to four crew members at a time.

“I am incredibly grateful to our teams at NASA, Boeing and the United Launch Alliance who have shown persistence, determination and dedication to ensure we were ready for launch today and for this flight test,” said Kathryn Lueders, associate administrator for space operations. from NASA.

“We have learned a lot as we work together to prepare for this mission, and we look forward to seeing the spacecraft arrive at the space station for the first time and to continue learning and improving as we prepare to fly with our astronauts on Starliner.” .”

While Starliner remains anchored to the space station through Wednesday, the aircraft will recharge its battery using solar panels while the space station crew performs regular system checks and ground controllers evaluate data collected during its flight, Boeing said.

The spacecraft is also expected to return with more than 600 pounds of cargo, including reusable oxygen tanks that will be refitted on Earth and shipped back to the station on a future flight.

Starliner’s arrival on space stations comes eight years after NASA first awarded Boeing $4.2 billion to build Starliner and help the government agency realize its plans for a commercial space industry. At the time, SpaceX was also given $2.6 billion to build the Crew Dragon.

This latest launch marks the second uncrewed Starliner flight, but the company’s third attempt to test the Starliner after the second attempt was scrapped last year due to problems with its valve system. Boeing launched the first Starliner in December 2019, but the spacecraft had to return to Earth before docking with the space station due to software glitches.

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