The mission began with a Florida launch on Thursday evening, and the Starliner – which is designed to carry astronauts but flies unmanned for the test – joined the ISS at 8:28 pm ET on Friday night. The docking occurred about an hour later than expected as the floor crew worked through a few issues, including a software issue with the graphics being bent. Initially there were problems with the sensors not moving properly and some docking components.
The capsule has a docking ring that comes out as it approaches its port and is used to put the latch on. To the ISS. During the first attempt at docking, some components did not go into the correct configuration. To get everything in the right place, ground teams had to try the pop-out process a second time. There was also a minor problem with the Starliner’s cooling cycles, which are part of the spacecraft’s temperature regulating system.
All of those issues had to be analyzed or corrected in a timely manner for Starliner to move forward, and the docking eventually went without a major issue.
“It was very annoying to see that vehicle sit there for a while until it was time to get in,” Mark Nappy, Boeing’s Starliner project manager, told reporters Friday night.
However, there are a number of issues with the spacecraft’s on-board thrusters, which can maneuver and distract the vehicle as it travels through space. Two of those impulses were prematurely shut down shortly after the spacecraft reached orbit. There were problems after the other two motivations.
Despite the setbacks, NASA’s business team manager Steve Stitch, who oversees Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon program, says the spacecraft worked “beautifully”.
“Of course this is a test flight, as you probably saw throughout the day. You saw what we were learning along the way. It’s very exciting,” Stitch said in a press conference on Friday night.
NASA and Boeing officials said there were “lots” of built-in backups on Starliner, so Thruster issues were not a big concern, Stitch said. The vehicle has 48 such thrusters, and the capsule’s internal systems can choose to use any one thruster.
According to Nappy, although Boeing wants to understand why the thrusters did not work, it may not happen.
“We never know what the real reason for this is,” he said.
Engineers reduced motivation problems to “six or seven” possible causes, three of which often appeared. To zero in on the precision problem, engineers may have to see the impulses in person, something that cannot happen because the thrusters are connected to the service module – a part is removed and burned into the atmosphere before the Starliner is manufactured. Returns to Earth with its control.
This is expected to happen in the next few days. The Starliner will exit the ISS and make its way home, using its impulses to return to the thickest part of the Earth’s atmosphere before landing in the desert of New Mexico.
If all goes well, it’s going to be a huge success for Boeing, with many years of delays and development hangups with Starliner.
The spacecraft’s first attempt to complete an orbital test mission in 2019 had to return from space prematurely, without completing the ISS docking due to software issues. A second attempt to introduce the Starliner to the ISS in August last year was abandoned after pre-flight tests revealed problems with the main valves.
If this mission is completed safely, Boeing’s Starliner could send astronauts by the end of 2022.