The touchdown was the final step of a vital check for Boeing and NASA, which required the aerospace firm to show it might safely fly the automobile to the station and again autonomously earlier than permitting it to fly astronauts.
The return flight went easily, NASA and Boeing mentioned, from undocking with the house station, then firing its thrusters to deorbit and getting into the environment. Because it plunged again towards Earth, its warmth defend endured temperatures as excessive as 3,000 levels Fahrenheit.
“Only a lovely landing in White Sands this night,” Lauren Seabrook, a Boeing spokesperson, mentioned on the reside broadcast of the touchdown.
She added that the spacecraft landed about three-tenths-of-a-mile southeast of the touchdown web site, “which is principally a bull’s eye,” she mentioned.
It’s unclear, nonetheless, when the primary crewed flight would occur.
On its solution to the station, two of its predominant thrusters lower off after sensors recorded issues. Backups kicked in immediately, placing the spacecraft on the correct path to the station, however as soon as it bought near the station, two different, smaller thrusters, used to place the spacecraft for docking, additionally had issues, Boeing mentioned. As well as, the spacecraft’s thermal management system, used to maintain the spacecraft on the proper temperature, additionally failed.
Regardless of these challenges, NASA and Boeing hailed the mission as a “historic” first that might give the house company a substitute for SpaceX for carrying cargo and astronauts to the station. Mark Nappi, a Boeing vice chairman who oversees the Starliner program, mentioned that regardless of the issues, the “spacecraft is in wonderful situation,” and that it “carried out prefer it was alleged to.”
Steve Stich, who runs NASA’s business crew program, mentioned final week that the issues had been overcome with out an excessive amount of hassle however that the “failures” must be studied.
“We now have numerous redundancy so that actually didn’t have an effect on the rendezvous operations in any respect or have an effect on the remainder of the flight,” he mentioned after the docking. “I do know after the flight, we’ll go research the failures there and see what occurred.”
That investigation is made harder by the truth that engineers on the bottom received’t be capable to look at the 2 predominant thrusters that lower out since they’re housed within the spacecraft’s service module, which was jettisoned throughout the return.
Nonetheless, NASA and Boeing celebrated the flight as a hit. Throughout a post-flight briefing Wednesday night, Stich mentioned the “check flight was extraordinarily profitable. We met all of the mission targets.” He added that “the methods carried out nice on the automobile and, you recognize, as soon as we work via all the info, we’ll be able to fly the crew on the automobile.”
Whereas there have been a number of points alongside the way in which, he mentioned there have been no “showstoppers.” Regardless of the issues with the thrusters, he mentioned, “I don’t see any cause why we are able to’t proceed towards a crewed flight check subsequent.”
Nappi added that “we’re extraordinarily happy with the results of this mission.”
Boeing and NASA have mentioned they want to have the ability to fly a mission with astronauts by the top of the yr, however they’d first want to verify they perceive the entire points that cropped up in addition to research the info they’ve from the capsule now that it’s again on the bottom.
This system is already delayed by years after a sequence of earlier issues. Boeing first tried the uncrewed check flight in December 2019. But it surely needed to lower the check brief after a serious software program downside and a communications failure prompted the spacecraft to burn an excessive amount of gasoline and never enter an orbit that might carry it to the house station. It took 20 months earlier than the corporate tried once more, however that flight failed even to get off the bottom final August when engineers found that 13 valves within the service module had been caught within the closed place.