Boeing’s Starliner Successfully Transported Astronauts to the ISS Despite Having Five of Its Thrusters Fail

Starliner’s test flight to the International Space Station became tense because of three helium leaks and the failure of five RCS system thrusters.

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Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft successfully transported astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) for the first time. NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams have already opened the hatch and met Expedition 71 crew members after testing the spacecraft’s manual controls.

A tense journey. Starliner lifted off aboard an Atlas V rocket from the United Launch Alliance (ULA) on Wednesday at 10:52 a.m. ET / 07:27 a.m. PT. After an initial unsuccessful attempt, the spacecraft docked at one of the Space Station’s ports at 1:34 p.m. ET / 10:34 a.m. PT.

The two astronauts, Wilmore and Williams, were never in danger, but the flight had several tense moments. This was evident with the expressions on the faces of NASA officials in the control center.

Three helium leaks. Starliner launched with a small helium leak found in early May. Both Boeing and NASA determined that it didn’t pose a risk to the mission, given that the launch could proceed with as many as five similar leaks.

Shortly after launch, Boeing discovered two new helium leaks on the spacecraft just as the astronauts were about to go to sleep. The leaks were in the reaction control system (RCS) manifolds, which are small thrusters that allow the spacecraft to adjust its orientation.

However, as Starliner began its approach to the Space Station, five thrusters in the RCS system failed. Mission engineers were able to reactivate four of the thrusters, and the crew manually piloted the spacecraft to within 656 feet of the station. However, they missed the first docking window.

A failed attempt, then a success. After waiting for about an hour, the Starliner crew members successfully docked with the ISS, taking advantage of the second window. The spacecraft’s fault tolerance enabled a smooth docking.

Following the docking, all Starliner manifolds were resealed for safety, as per the pre-planned procedure. The hatch opening and welcoming ceremony for the two astronauts started on Thursday at 3:35 p.m. ET / 12:35 p.m. PT. Wilmore and Williams are expected to spend 8 to 10 days on the station before returning to Earth.

Image | NASA

Related | Boeing Identifies Two Leaks on the Starliner, Which Has Astronauts Onboard Headed to the Space Station

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