Boeing’s Starliner has successfully docked with the International Space Station, completing an important step toward a critical test flight that will determine whether the spacecraft is ready for crewed missions.
The unmanned spacecraft took off from Cape Canaveral on top of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and traveled for more than 25 hours to reach the orbiting lab.
Starliner attempted to reach the ISS for the first time in December 2019 but failed due to a software issue that prevented the spacecraft’s thrusters from firing.
Boeing had to cancel its launch plans in August of last year due to a problem with the spacecraft’s valves, preventing the company from planning another launch for nearly a year.
The @BoeingSpace #Starliner crew ship completed its trip to the station when it docked to the Harmony module’s forward port at 8:28pm ET today. More… https://t.co/RgllPL4Uiu pic.twitter.com/0uxslOk0Mn
— International Space Station (@Space_Station) May 21, 2022
Orbital Flight Test-2, while successful, was not without problems. According to The Washington Post, two of its 12 main thrusters failed shortly after launch, and its temperature control system failed.
The docking process was also delayed by over an hour while the ground crew ensured that the lighting was optimal and communications were functioning properly. There was also an issue with the spacecraft’s docking mechanism, which required it to retract before extending it a second time.
Boeing stated that the Starliner’s main thrusters failed due to a drop in thruster chamber pressure, but the cause was not disclosed.
Boeing vice president Mark Nappi explained that because the thrusters are on the service module that is discarded during the return flight, the exact reason for it may never be discovered.
Nonetheless, NASA and the company intend to investigate the other issues that occurred in order to comprehend them and avoid them in the future.
Starliner will remain docked with the ISS for the next five days before returning to Earth, landing in the New Mexico desert. If the spacecraft successfully returns to Earth, Boeing could launch astronauts into orbit as early as this fall.