Until recently, only the space company SpaceX was able to transport astronauts from American soil to the International Space Station. Boeing wants to change that. Last Thursday, the company tested their Starliner spacecraft: The Starliner was headed to the International Space Station unmanned. On Saturday morning, the craft successfully docked with the space station.
The Starliner took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Thursday, May 19, aboard an Atlas V rocket. It arrived at the International Space Station about 24 hours after launch. Now that the test mission is successful, it means the end of SpaceX’s monopoly – the only company that was once able to send astronauts from US soil into orbit.
The Starliner completed its flight despite problems with the thrusters. Two of the twelve defenses failed as Starliner moved into orbit. That turned out to be not much of a problem: the backup thrusters ensured the spacecraft could continue on its way.
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Boeing’s program manager Mark Naby said at a press conference on May 19 that the system is designed to rely on parts. “He was performing as he should. We have a safe car.
Starliner has had a troubled past. In 2019, the craft failed to reach the International Space Station. Then a wrong clock prevented the rocket’s boosters from operating properly after the moment of takeoff. Another launch was planned for 2021, but a few hours before the moment of launch, it turned out that the fuses were damaged by the effects of the weather. The launch was later postponed to May 19, 2022.
“Bringing new spacecraft into space is always a challenge,” said space expert Libby Jackson of the British Space Agency. †[Ruimtevaartbedrijven] Perform tests to identify potential problems. They don’t go to the launch pad without making sure they’re ready.
Now that the Starliner has arrived at the International Space Station, Boeing is the second commercial company able to take American astronauts into space. The first manned Starliner launch will take place later this year.
SpaceX brought astronauts for the first time to the International Space Station in May 2020, aboard the Crew Dragon capsule. Since then, eight astronauts have been flown by SpaceX on two other missions.
In 2018, a Russian Soyuz rocket was the only way to reach the International Space Station. When the rocket showed problems, there was a risk that the astronauts would become temporarily “stuck” on the space station. For NASA, this was part of the reason for boosting the commercial space sector: they didn’t want to rely entirely on Russia. The invasion of Ukraine makes that more important than ever.
“If you have two different ways of getting into space, and if there are problems with either, you have another choice.” [om op terug te vallen]Jackson says. “It’s really important to make sure that we can continue to use the International Space Station safely.”
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