The Boeing capsule, Starliner, docked for the first time with the International Space Station (ISS), on the night of Friday May 20 to Saturday May 21. It is a success for the company, which must in the future transport astronauts for NASA, even if this empty test flight took place years behind those of SpaceX, the company founded by Elon Musk.
The docking took place on Saturday at 2:28 a.m. in Paris, more than an hour behind the initially scheduled time due to final checks during the approach maneuvers, meticulously choreographed 400 km above. of our heads.
The astronauts on board the ISS and the control room in Houston (Texas) closely monitored the entire operation. Starliner first leveled off about 250 yards from the station. Then, after advancing slightly towards the ISS, the capsule backed up to ensure it could retreat if needed. Finally, after a new controlled stop, although longer than expected, at 10 meters, the delicate final maneuver, carried out while the ISS is speeding at 28,000 km/h, has been initiated. The vehicle approached slowly, until contact.
“The Starliner spacecraft successfully completes its historic first docking with the International Space Station, opening a new route to the flying laboratory for crews”said a commentator during the live broadcast offered by NASA.
The capsule hatch won’t open until later in the day on Saturday. Boeing is carrying about 230 kg of supplies, including food. Starliner must remain docked to the ISS for about five days, before descending back to Earth to land in the desert of the US state of New Mexico, at the White Sands base.
Expected return to New Mexico
A first unmanned test flight had already been attempted in 2019, but the capsule had then encountered several problems and it had to turn back without being able to reach the station. Since Boeing has been struggling to catch up with SpaceX, yet a new player in the aerospace sector in comparison, but which has already been transporting astronauts for NASA since 2020, after the success of the qualification flights of its own capsule, Dragon.
Starliner lifted off from Florida on Thursday atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket. About thirty minutes after launch, the capsule had managed to place itself on the right trajectory, but two of its twelve thrusters had failed. NASA and Boeing officials, however, downplayed the incident, which they said should not affect the mission.
The thrusters will be used again at the end of the mission, for the maneuver intended to bring the capsule back into the Earth’s atmosphere. But the problem has, a priori, not “need to be resolved” by then, the previous thrusts having nevertheless worked, had estimated Steve Stich of NASA during a press conference on Thursday evening. The system “does not pose a risk for the rest of the test flight”NASA confirmed again on Friday on its blog.
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