The first unmanned test flight to the International Space Station did not completely go according to plan. And so now there is a second chance to come.
It took a while, but Boeing Space Company has now announced the date of its second unmanned test flight to the International Space Station. NASA and Boeing are aiming for Thursday, March 25th. It will be an exciting journey. Because this time Boeing will have to really prove itself.
In addition to SpaceX, Boeing has also developed a spacecraft that will soon be able to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station. That spacecraft – the CST-100 Starliner – underwent a major test in December 2019 when it was sent (unmanned) to the International Space Station. The launch went well, but went wrong shortly thereafter; The space capsule failed to reach the desired orbit, and it returned to Earth without visiting the International Space Station.
After the “ failed ” test flight, it was also unclear whether that flight – in which the ship eventually returned to Earth safely – would delay Starliner’s first manned flight. NASA had initially hoped to deploy the Starliner sometime in the first quarter of 2020 to bring astronauts to the International Space Station. Ultimately, NASA and Boeing chose to restore the unmanned test flight before sending astronauts to the International Space Station. Boeing said in mid-2020: “We have chosen to restart our test flight to prove the quality of the Starliner.” “With a second unmanned flight, we can complete all the objectives of the test flight and evaluate the Starliner’s performance.”
Unfortunately, the entire mission was postponed later due to various factors. But now that second primary unmanned test flight has been scheduled! However, Starliner will not move into airspace until the end of March. And so we still have to be patient.
Commercial Staff Program
The unmanned test flight is part of the Commercial Crew Program. Within this program, various commercial parties – including Boeing and SpaceX – are working on a launch vehicle and space capsule with which to transport astronauts to the International Space Station. In 2011, the glorious space shuttle flights ended. Since then, NASA has relied on the Russian Soyuz capsule to launch astronauts. This has been going well for years. But Americans love to have their fate in their own hands. They also believe that working with commercial parties is better than competing with them. This is why Commercial Crew was founded. Since these space companies are now moving between Earth and the International Space Station, NASA is free to focus on space missions that extend beyond the space station.
However, Boeing itself is far from idle and currently preparing for this defining moment. For example, they recently paired a reusable spaceflight crew unit with an all-new service unit at the Starliner Manufacturing Plant. Additionally, the team is currently finalizing the Starliner cabin prior to carrying out final checks. All systems have also been fully checked to see if everything matches the design. In this regard, Boeing leaves nothing to chance and every detail is meticulously prepared.
Expectations are high. Because this unmanned test flight is necessary in order to obtain the correct paperwork to routinely fly between Earth and the International Space Station to land and capture astronauts. This time, Boeing will really have to show what it can do and avert a second disaster anyway. By the way, they are not there after this trip. If Boeing succeeds in this second unmanned test flight, another manned test flight to the International Space Station will follow. It is already known who the lucky astronauts are. For example, the Starliner will be operated for the first time by two NASA astronauts (Michael Fink and Nicole Mann) and a Boeing astronaut (Chris Ferguson).
But before that happens, the second chance for a pilot unmanned flight of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner will take place in March. The Starliner will be launched on an Atlas V rocket from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The final destination is the International Space Station. The Starliner will dock at the space station and return to Earth in the western United States about a week later. After that it must be clarified whether all systems are ready to fly with the crew.
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