Mission Boe-OFT 2: the Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft has reached the International Space Station

Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft docked with the International Space Station (Image NASA TV)
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft docked with the International Space Station (Image NASA TV)

A few hours ago, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft docked with the International Space Station’s Harmony module carrying out the first part of its Boe-OFT 2 (Boeing Orbital Flight Test 2) or OFT-2 mission which began with the launch just over 24 hours earlier. The hatch is scheduled to open in the American morning and all work on the Starliner will be completed rather quickly, as it could depart already on May 25.

Despite the repeated checks conducted by the Boeing team, during the Starliner spacecraft’s journey to the International Space Station, there were a few problems with its thrusters. During the insertion maneuvers into orbit, two of these thrusters shut down earlier than expected, possibly due to a drop in pressure within their systems. The system is redundant and the onboard computer switched to two other thrusters, which worked correctly allowing the completion of the maneuvers.

The Starliner spacecraft is equipped with an automated docking system to the International Docking Adapter (IDA). Station safety is a top priority so every little step of the Starliner during its approach is checked. Only if everything goes well in the spacecraft’s position and speed they proceed to the next step and in case of problems it can be aborted at every step.

During a journey that lasted a little more than one day, the Starliner spacecraft carried out various maneuvers to test possible eventualities. In the final part, an abort of the approach maneuvers to the International Space Station was tested, requiring it to move away to a safe distance. For this reason, the time it took to reach the Station was longer than usual.

A slowdown in the schedule was due to a discrepancy in the graphical representation of the Starliner spacecraft used by the Station crew to monitor its approach. The reasons will have to be checked carefully but the Station crew had confidence in detecting the Starliner’s correct position, so it was possible to resume the approach procedure.

The final maneuvers began with the second docking window, which began about 40 minutes after the first. It was also necessary to retract and re-extend the Starliner’s docking mechanism. In the end, the docking took place about an hour and a half later than expected. It’s the first docking for the Starliner, so some small glitches can happen, the important thing is that there were no serious problems and that the thrusters worked correctly.

The Starliner spacecraft is scheduled to depart no earlier than May 25th. On the return journey, it will carry some cargoes, a useful possibility to increase the opportunities to bring biological samples back to Earth for in-depth analysis. Despite some problems, the Starliner reached the International Space Station, a crucial achievement in Boeing and NASA’s plans to extend the possibilities of transporting astronauts.

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