Boeing’s Starliner capsule encountered propulsion problems en route to the ISS, NASA says

American aerospace giant Boeing’s Starliner capsule was en route to the International Space Station on Thursday, in a critical unmanned test flight that followed years of failures and false starts.

The spacecraft encountered some propulsion problems early in its journey, with two thrusters responsible for maneuvering in orbit failing for unclear reasons – but NASA officials said the mission stayed on course.

The Orbital Test Flight 2 (OFT-2) mission launched at 18:54 Eastern Time (4:24 IST) from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, with the spacecraft mounted on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

Its success is key to restoring Boeing’s battered reputation after the first bid failed to dock with the ISS in 2019 due to software bugs – one that resulted in too much fuel being burned to reach its destination and another that could have destroyed the ISS vehicle on re-entry.

A second attempt was planned for August last year, but Starliner was rolled back from the launch pad to fix sticky valves not opening as they should, and the capsule was eventually sent back to the factory for repairs.

At a post-launch press conference, senior NASA official Steve Sitch said, “Overall, the spacecraft is doing really well,” but he also pointed out two anomalies that engineers were now working to understand.

The first was that two of 12 orbital maneuvering and attitude control thrusters (OMAC) located on the rear of the Starliner had first fired but then shut down, forcing a third to close its gap.

The second problem was that a device known as a sublimator, which is responsible for cooling the spacecraft, was slow to start up at first.

NASA intends to certify Starliner as the second “taxi” service for its astronauts to the space station — a role Elon Musk’s SpaceX has filled since the success of a test mission for its Dragon capsule in 2020.

search for redemption

Both companies were awarded fixed-price contracts in 2014, shortly after the end of the space shuttle program – US$4.2 billion (approx. Rs. 32,570 billion) to Boeing and US$2.6 billion (approx. than the United States depended on Russian Soyuz rockets for trips to the orbital outpost.

Boeing, with its hundred-year history, was seen by many as a sure shot, while then-upstart SpaceX was less proven.

In reality, it was SpaceX that leaped ahead, recently sending its fourth routine crew to the research platform – while Boeing’s development delays have cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars.

Starliner was scheduled to dock with the ISS about 24 hours after launch and deliver more than 500 pounds (226 kilograms) of cargo, including food and provisions like clothing and sleeping bags for the station’s current crew.

Its only passenger is a mannequin named Rosie the Rocketeer – a play about World War II campaign icon Rosie the Riveter – whose job it is to collect flight data with her sensors to learn what human astronauts would experience.

“We’re a little jealous of Rosie,” said NASA astronaut Mike Fincke, who is expected to be among the first crew members selected for a manned demonstration mission should OFT-2 be successful.

The gummy candy-shaped capsule will spend about five to 10 days in space, then undock and return to Earth on giant parachutes to land in the desert of the western United States.

NASA sees a second vendor in low-Earth orbit as key support should SpaceX run into problems.

“It’s a really critical step for us and on the way to having two routinely flying manned vehicles that can take our crew to and from the ISS,” Dana Weigel, the ISS’ deputy program manager, told reporters this week. Boeing’s Starliner capsule encountered propulsion problems en route to the ISS, NASA says

Ryan Sederquist

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