Boeing’s Starliner capsule has stayed on course since it launched Thursday evening (May 19) on its crucial Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission, despite a pair of thruster glitches during the vehicle’s orbital insertion burn 31 minutes after liftoff.
The uncrewed test for Starliner notched a major milestone Friday (May 20) when it rendezvoused and docked with the International Space Station (ISS).
Now, astronauts aboard the ISS are scheduled to open Starliner’s hatch and make a few welcoming remarks at about 11:45 a.m. EDT (1545 GMT) on Saturday (May 21). You can watch it live here at Space.com, courtesy of NASA; coverage begins at 11:30 a.m. EDT (1530 GMT).
Live updates: Boeing Starliner Orbital Flight Test 2 mission to ISS
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Friday’s arrival at the ISS was a big win for the Boeing program, which has been fraught with delays.
Starliner failed to reach the ISS during the first OFT in 2019 due to software glitches, and then had its second attempt scrubbed hours before liftoff in August of last year after the mission team discovered stuck valves in the capsule’s propulsion system. Reaching the space station took some weight off Boeing’s shoulders as NASA goes through the process of certifying Starliner for crewed missions.
The thruster malfunctions shortly after Thursday’s launch don’t appear to be related to the previous issues the vehicle has experienced. At a post-launch press briefing Thursday night, NASA and Boeing representatives doubled down on their confidence in Starliner to complete its mission, regardless of the new thruster problems.
“The system is designed to be redundant, and it performed like it was supposed to,” said Mark Nappi, vice president and program manager for Boeing’s commercial crew program.
Starliner spent Thursday night chasing down the orbital laboratory, and it began executing rendezvous test maneuvers just after 3:30 p.m. EDT (1930 GMT) on Friday. Before moving to dock, the capsule successfully demonstrated its ability to stop on command as well as retreat away from the station in case of emergency.
Satisfied with the results, Boeing flight operators instructed Starliner to begin docking procedures, and the vehicle started its slow progression toward the station’s Harmony module. At 8:28 p.m. EDT on Friday (0028 GMT on May 21), Starliner officially docked with the International Space Station.
Over the next few days, crewmembers aboard the orbiting lab will empty Starliner of over 400 pounds (180 kilograms) of supplies and provisions, then pack its hull with nearly 600 pounds (270 kg) of cargo marked for return to Earth.
Staying on board Starliner will be Boeing’s test dummy, affectionately dubbed Rosie the Rocketeer, after Rosie the Riveter of World War II-era fame. Clad in one of Boeing’s blue spacesuits, Rosie will stay strapped into Starliner’s command seat for the ride back to Earth.
Sensors on Rosie were used to measure g-forces experienced on the body during Strainer’s first test flight. On OFT-2, the sensors are now being used to measure those same forces’ effects on Starliner’s seats during reentry and landing. Starliner is scheduled to return to Earth following a four- to five-day stay at the space station, a timeline largely dictated by weather at the vehicle’s potential landing sites in the western United States.
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