Boeing’s Starliner gets back to Earth from the space station

Boeing’s new astronaut taxi has landed securely back on Earth, wrapping up its long-anticipated and crucial demonstration mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

The Starliner capsule landed at White Sands Space Harbor, part of the U.S. Armed force’s White Sands Missile Range (WSRM) in New Mexico, today (May 25) at 6:49 p.m. EDT (2249 GMT). The touchdown brought Boeing’s uncrewed Orbital Test Flight 2 (OFT-2) to a successful end.

Starliner took off on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V Rocket on the evening of May 19 and showed up at the ISS around 24 hours after the fact. That was an immense achievement for Boeing, and one that the aviation monster had attempted to accomplish once previously.

Starliner launched on the original OFT in December 2019 yet failed to meet with the International Space Station as planned subsequent to experiencing a series of software glitches. That past mission likewise finished with a touchdown at the WSMR, though one that happened sooner than anticipated. OFT-2 was Starliner’s do-over, and a significant obstacle to defeat in confirming the vehicle to carry crew.

Starliner undocked from the ISS today at 2:36 p.m. EDT (1836 GMT). At 6:05 p.m. EDT (2205 GMT), the capsule directed a 58-second deorbit burn, which eased back its speed by 285 mph (459 kph). Starliner isolates from its service module a few minutes after the burn wrapped and started its dive through Earth’s air at 6:33 p.m. EDT (2233 GMT), hitting our planet’s air at about 17 times the speed of sound.

At 6:44 p.m. EDT (1844 GMT), at just under five miles (9 kilometers) in altitude, Starliner discarded its forward heat shield and sent two drogue parachutes, easing back the vehicle’s drop impressively.

At an altitude of around 1.5 miles (2.4 km), the drogue chutes withdrew and Starliner’s three main parachutes sent, easing back Starliner to a sensible effect velocity. With around 3,000 feet (0.9 kilometers) to go, Starliner discarded its basal heat shield, uncovering its airbags, which before long swelled to assimilate the initial impact with the ground.

Terra firma touchdowns aren’t the traditional standard for American orbital crew capsules; NASA’s Apollo spacecraft and SpaceX’s Dragon vehicle have both only wrapped up their space missions with ocean splashdowns. (NASA’s space shuttle orbiters — spane planes as opposed to capsules — were worked for runway landings on terra firma; they some of the time returned to Earth at White Sands Space Harbor.)

NASA and Boeing recognized four other potential landing sites leading up to Starliner’s return, refering to weather as the ultimate deciding factor. One of these alternatives was an alternate location within the WSMR, and different sites were in Arizona, Utah and California.

Be that as it may, Starliner ended up landing precisely where and when it should, descending inside 0.3 miles (0.5 km) of its target, as per Boeing representatives(opens in new tab).

However OFT-2 is currently officially a success, Starliner encountered a couple of hiccups during the mission. For example, two of the thrusters on Starliner’s service module fizzled during its orbital insertion burn, which happened around 30 minutes after launch. A backup thruster immediately made up for the breakdowns, permitting the mission to go on without incident.

Shortly after that incident, mission colleagues expressed certainty that the thruster failures wouldn’t influence the rest of OFT-2. They likewise stated that deciding a root cause would probably need to hold on until Starliner’s post-flight inspections.

In the event that those inspections and different analyses go well, NASA could end up certifying Starliner for crewed flight, possibly making ready for an astronaut-carrying test mission to the ISS in the near future.

“We are getting our crewed test vehicle ready to go by the end of the year,” NASA human spaceflight chief Kathy Lueders said in a prelaunch press conference earlier this month.

Boeing signed a multibillion-dollar contract with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program in 2014. SpaceX inked a comparative deal simultaneously and has previously launched four operational astronaut missions to the ISS with its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule.

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