Boeing’s Starliner space capsule was launched on a key test flight into orbit

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CAP CA√ĎAVERAL – Boeing’s new Starliner capsule was launched on Thursday in an unmanned test flight bound for the International Space Station, with the aim of offering the company much-needed success after more than two years of delays and costly engineering setbacks.

The rubber-shaped CST-100 Starliner took off shortly before 7:00 pm EDT (2300 GMT) from the U.S. Space Force Station at Cape Canaveral in Florida, hovering on top of an Atlas V rocket. provided by the Boeing-Lockheed Martin United Launch Alliance (ULA).

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About 30 minutes after takeoff, the Starliner reached its planned preliminary orbit, after separating from the Atlas V rocket in the upper stage and flying on its own to a trajectory for a later encounter with the spacecraft. space station.

“Starliner is in orbit, heading to the ISS,” Boeing launch commentator Josh Barrett said during a NASA webcast when the target orbit was reached.

It was at the time of Starliner’s previous test flight in late 2019 that a software failure effectively thwarted the spacecraft’s ability to reach the space station.

If all goes according to plan, the capsule will gradually increase its orbit as it follows the path to the space station, arriving in about 24 hours to dock with the advanced search site about 250 miles (400 km) above the Earth Friday evening.

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The Boeing spacecraft will spend four to five days connected to the space station before disengaging and returning to Earth, with a parachute landing cushioned by air cushions on the floor of the White Sands Desert, New Mexico.

A successful mission will make the much-delayed Starliner an important step in providing NASA with a reliable second means of transporting astronauts to and from the space station.

Since resuming manned flights into orbit from U.S. soil in 2020, nine years after the end of the space shuttle program, the U.S. space agency has had to rely solely on Falcon 9 and Elon Musk’s SpaceX company Crew Dragon capsules to fly NASA astronauts.

Previously, the only other way to get to the orbital lab was to take a trip aboard the Russian spacecraft Soyuz.

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“Having a backup is important for the country,” NASA chief Bill Nelson told Reuters hours before takeoff.

Thursday’s launch also comes at a crucial time for Boeing, as the Chicago-based company is struggling to emerge from successive crises in its aircraft business and space defense unit. The Starliner program alone has forced Boeing to charge $ 595 million since its first unmanned test flight crashed into orbit in 2019.


The Starliner did not fly into empty orbit. The capsule carried a research mannequin, whimsically named Rosie the Rocketeer, to collect data on the condition of the crew’s cabin during the voyage, plus 500 pounds of cargo to deliver to the space station crew: three astronauts from NASA, an astronaut from the European Space Agency in Italy and three Russian cosmonauts

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Two of the American astronauts will have the task of boarding the capsule during Starliner’s stay to take measurements of its indoor environment and unload supplies.

Thursday’s launch marked a repeat of a 2019 test mission that failed to make a successful appointment with the space station due to a malfunction of the flight software. Subsequent problems with the Starliner propulsion system, supplied by Aerojet Rocketdyne, led Boeing to scramble an attempt to launch the capsule last summer.

The spacecraft remained on the ground for nine more months as the two companies discussed what caused their fuel valves to shut down and which company was responsible for fixing them, Reuters reported last week.

Boeing says it has since resolved the bug with a workaround and plans to redesign the propulsion system’s fuel valve system after this week’s flight.

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The Starliner was developed under a $ 4.5 billion fixed-rate NASA contract to provide the U.S. space agency with a second avenue into low Earth orbit, along with SpaceX.

If the second unmanned orbiting trip is successful, Starliner could blow up its first team of astronauts in the fall, though NASA officials warn that the time period could recede.

NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Mike Fincke had been assigned to do the Starliner crew mission. But NASA officials, reluctant to link two astronauts to a flight whose launch date is uncertain, said Wednesday that the mission could end up carrying at least two of the four astronauts who are now training to test the Starliner. (Reporting by Joey Roulette in Cape Canaveral, Florida; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Grant McCool)

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