Astronauts aboard the International Space Station prepare the CST-100 Starliner for its return trip, currently scheduled for Wednesday. The historic mission is coming to an end quickly, as Boeing conducted several key tests of its new spacecraft while docked at the orbital outpost. It has been a difficult mission for Boeing, after two previous failed attempts to get Starliner to the ISS.
By the time it leaves the ISS on Wednesday afternoon, the Starliner capsule will have spent five days attached to the station. The spaceship appointment with the ISS at 8:28 p.m. ET Friday, May 20, having spear space out the day before. the problem with the propulsion systemwhich occurred during Starliner’s orbital burnup, does not appear to have affected the mission, known as Boeing Orbital Flight Test 2, or OFT-2.
The successful docking saw an uncrewed Starliner connect to a new Boeing-built docking port attached to the Harmony module of the ISS. When docking, the capsule recharged its batteries using solar panels mounted on the service module, according to a Boeing Press release.
Ted Colbert, CEO of Boeing Defense, Space & Security, said in the statement that Starliner’s successful docking “is another milestone in this rehearsal to send astronauts into orbit safely and reliably.” The goal is to get Starliner approved for human use, giving NASA a second way to ferry its astronauts into space (the other being SpaceX’s Crew Dragon).
Astronauts with the Expedition 67 crew open The Starliner hatch on Saturday morning, allowing them to venture inside. Rosie the Rocketeer was still strapped into her seat, a test dummy that tracks the physical conditions associated with manned spaceflight. After inspecting the capsule’s interior, NASA flight engineers Kjell Lindgren and Bob Hines began the process of unloading the Starliner, which brought 500 pounds of cargo to the ISS.
Boeing and NASA have also finished a number of anchored flight test purposes, including shared ventilation between Starliner and the space station, testing of various audio checks (including with Mission Control in Florida), confirmation of anchored telemetry paths and transfers files, and charging Starliner batteries from station power. The crew still needs to load 600 books cargo in Starliner, perform pre-disembarkation systems activation and checks, and close the Starliner hatch, among other duties.
The spacecraft is scheduled to undock to the ISS at 2:36 p.m. EDT Wednesday, May 25. Starliner will then enter the atmosphere and make a parachute-assisted landing near White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico. Gizmodo will provide live coverage of this event tomorrow, so stay tuned.