Mission Boe-OFT 2 accomplished: the Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft has come back to Earth

The CST-100 Starliner spacecraft landing to end its OFT 2 mission (Photo NASA/Bill Ingalls)
The CST-100 Starliner spacecraft landing to end its OFT 2 mission (Photo NASA/Bill Ingalls)

A few hours ago, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft landed at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, ending its Boe-OFT 2 (Boeing Orbital Flight Test 2) mission. It departed the International Space Station, where it arrived on May 21, just over 4 hours earlier. The Starliner doesn’t splash down in the ocean but lands on the ground. The ground staff intervened in an assistance activity exercise that will take place on missions with astronauts. Onboard were over 250 kg of miscellaneous cargoes that need to be unloaded and the Rosie dummy.

The landing was perhaps the only real success of the first test of the Starliner spacecraft but that too risked failing. The anomaly that caused the off-nominal orbit insertion led to an immediate start of checks of the on-board systems that allowed to discover another serious problem concerning the landing procedures. Basically, there was a strong risk that the Starliner’s service module, which is ejected during the landing, collided with the capsule. Today, it’s possible to update the software of a spacecraft remotely, and that allowed the successful landing at the end of the first test. However, there were some modifications to the Starliner to make it even more robust, and the landing at the end of the second test seems to have succeeded perfectly.

During the Boe-OFT 2 mission, there were problems with some thrusters, and will likely be the main subject of an investigation by Boeing and NASA. The thrusters used for the orbit insertion maneuvers are on the service module, which is ejected before landing, so only telemetry data is available for them. After the Starliner departed the International Space Station, some maneuvers were conducted to fire up the troubled thrusters and collect more data.

The success of the Boe-OFT 2 mission was critical to Boeing considering that SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft has already conducted some crewed missions after starting its regular service. Boeing and NASA hope that the Starliner can carry out a crewed test, the Crew Flight Test, by 2022 or early 2023 but this will depend on the results of the investigation that will be carried out on the second test and on the time required to solve the problems, especially those with the thrusters.

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