Boeing primes Starliner for unmanned launch to the ISS
Image credit: PA
Boeing will attempt its second unmanned flight to the International Space Station (ISS) in a demonstration of the capabilities of its CST-100 Starliner capsule.
The reusable crew capsule, in development for over a decade, has been designed to transport crew to the ISS and other low-Earth orbit destinations.
While humans may not be present, the upcoming test flight will see Starliner carry supplies and test equipment to the ISS. If all goes well, it will demonstrate its capabilities in launching, docking, and then re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere while performing a safe desert landing.
Boeing’s previous attempt at an uncrewed test flight in 2019 ended in failure due to an unforeseen software glitch. While the capsule was able to reach orbit and land safely, the software problem prevented it from docking successfully with the ISS.
Boeing is estimated to be paying around $410m (£300m) for the upcoming test mission on 30 July which will take place at the Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral in Florida.
It hopes that Starliner will eventually become an important feature of Nasa’s space programme, being used to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS.
The last 18 months have seen engineers taking around 80 corrective actions to resolve the glitches that saw the Starliner’s first attempt fail.
Nasa’s director of spaceflight, said: “After reviewing the team’s data, and the readiness of all the parties, everybody said ‘go’ for the launch.”
The space agency has been increasing its use of private firms during launches. Last year, it approved the use of Dragon Spacecraft built by Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
In June 2020, it launched two astronauts to the ISS, marking the first time such a feat had been achieved by a private firm.
The successful launch was bad news for Starliner, as it had been overshadowed by SpaceX’s efforts despite Boeing being awarded $5.1bn from Nasa to develop the capsule compared to just $3.1bn for SpaceX.
But while SpaceX has opted for ocean landings, Boeing’s spacecraft will touch down on land at one of its five sites in the western US.
Boeing said this landing method “allows for quicker access to crew and cargo, as well as makes turning around capsules for other missions more efficient”.
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