Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft has had a rough couple years, but this afternoon it successfully docked with the International Space Station, its first successful mission to orbit. Despite a few hiccups, this launch went more or less as planned, and if the craft can return to Earth safely that will make this a huge accomplishment for the beleaguered aerospace company.
Without recapping all the troubles the Starliner has had, let it suffice to say that delays upon delays led some to question whether this capsule would ever make it to orbit, to say nothing of making regular trips with crew aboard.
But naysayers may have to hold their tongues, at least for a week or two, after the Starliner’s successful launch and orbital insertion yesterday. and what appeared to be a textbook docking procedure this afternoon. Check out this great shot of the capsule during its “inbound flyaround”:
That’s not to say there were no problems whatsoever. Two orbital maneuvering and attitude control (OMAC) thrusters, which are exactly as important as they sound, had to be shut off during the insertion burn due to “a chamber drop in pressure.” There is also “off-nominal behavior of a thermal cooling loop.”
Naturally there are redundancies and tolerances in place for these kinds of things, and the Starliner continued on its merry way. But a multiple thruster failure isn’t something you can shrug off as “space is hard.” This was neither the first time the craft has been in space, nor its first time having thrust problems.
You better believe NASA, which has paid Boeing handsomely to develop this equipment, is going to be looking at this event through an electron microscope before committing another dime to the program.
Nevertheless, the spacecraft did complete its official orbital mission — a first for the Starliner — and a huge amount of things have to go right for that to happen. That’s definitely a win for Boeing, and they really needed one of those.
Plus they got this really awesome view, which looks fake but is definitely real: