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Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule launches to space station in decisive flight


Keeping an eye out for the threatening weather conditions, engineers prepared a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket for takeoff on Tuesday in a decisive flight to boost Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule in orbit for an unmanned trip to the International Space Station. Launch comes 18 months after Starliner software errors derailed a 2019 test flight.

Boeing is counting on the test flight to finally pave the way for manned missions that will eventually transport astronauts to and from the station under a $ 4.2 billion commercial crew contract with NASA.

The countdown began at 2 a.m. ET, heading towards take-off from Platform 41 of the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 1:20 p.m. ET. The launch was originally scheduled for last Friday, but NASA has ordered a postponement while engineers at the Russian space station problems solved with a newly arrived lab module.

If the weather cooperates for a timely launch – and forecasters have predicted a 50-50 chance – the Atlas 5’s Centaur second stage will release the Starliner to fly on its own about 15 minutes after take-off. Sixteen minutes later, the capsule’s main motor should fire for 40 seconds, putting the spacecraft into its original orbit.

During the Starliner program’s maiden flight in December 2019, a software error caused the critical orbit, or OI, insertion timing error by the ship’s flight computer. A communication glitch compounded the problem, the thruster was wasted, and NASA was eventually forced to eliminate an attempted rendezvous with the space station.

Since then, Boeing has implemented dozens of upgrades and modifications and chose to launch a second unmanned test flight this week to prove that the Starliner is ready to begin transporting astronauts to and from the complex. laboratories.

“It’s important not only for Boeing, but also for our customer to demonstrate that we can do this safely and successfully,” said former Shuttle Commander Chris Ferguson, Senior Commercial Crew Program Officer at Boeing. “I think you would be very hard pressed to find a flight leading to a manned space flight that has been as thoroughly controlled as this one.”

Assuming a successful launch, the Starliner will execute a carefully scripted sequence of thruster fire to pursue the space station, moving for automated docking at the Lab’s Forward Harbor on Wednesday at 1:37 p.m. ET. Undocking is scheduled for next Monday, with a landing near White Sands, New Mexico, scheduled for around 1:13 p.m. ET.

Based on lessons learned, Boeing and NASA may be ready to launch three astronauts aboard a different Starliner capsule by the end of this year or early next year. This will mark a major milestone in NASA’s post-shuttle campaign to end dependence on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

SpaceX, under a $ 2.6 billion contract with NASA, launched its Crew Dragon spacecraft in a successful unmanned test flight in 2019 and a piloted test flight l ‘last year. Since then, the California rocket builder has launched two operational flights to the space station carrying two long-lived crews to the outpost.

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