Astronauts on board the International Space Station are readying the CST-100 Starliner for its return trip home, currently scheduled for Wednesday. The landmark mission is quickly winding down, as Boeing has completed several key tests of its new spacecraft while docked to the orbital outpost. It’s been a nail-biter mission for Boeing, after two previous failed attempts to get Starliner to the ISS.
By the time it departs the ISS on Wednesday afternoon, the Starliner capsule will have spent five days attached to the station. The spacecraft rendezvoused with the ISS at 8:28 p.m. ET on Friday, May 20, having launched to space the day before. The problem with the propulsion system, which occurred during Starliner’s orbital burn, doesn’t seem to have affected the mission, known as Boeing Orbital Flight Test 2, or OFT-2.
The successful docking saw an uncrewed Starliner connect to a new Boeing-built docking port attached to the Harmony module of the ISS. Upon docking, the capsule recharged its batteries using solar arrays mounted to the service module, according to a Boeing press release.
Ted Colbert, CEO of Boeing Defense, Space & Security, said in the release that the successful docking of Starliner “is another important step in this rehearsal for sending astronauts into orbit safely and reliably.” The goal is to get Starliner approved for human use, giving NASA a second means of transporting its astronauts to space (the other being SpaceX’s Crew Dragon).
Astronauts with the Expedition 67 crew opened Starliner’s hatch on Saturday morning, allowing them to venture inside. Still strapped to her seat was Rosie the Rocketeer—a test manikin that’s tracking physical conditions associated with human spaceflight. After inspecting the capsule interior, NASA flight engineers Kjell Lindgren and Bob Hines began the process of unloading the Starliner, which brought 500 pounds of cargo to the ISS.
Boeing and NASA have also completed a number of docked flight test objectives, including shared ventilation between Starliner and the space station, testing various audio checkouts (including with Mission Control in Florida), confirming docked telemetry paths and file transfers, and recharging Starliner’s batteries from the station’s power. The crew still needs to load 600 pounds of cargo into Starliner, perform pre-undock systems activation and checkouts, and close Starliner’s hatch, among other tasks.
The spacecraft is expected to undock with the ISS at 2:36 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, May 25. Starliner will then reenter the atmosphere and make a parachute-assisted landing near White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico. Gizmodo will provide live coverage of this event tomorrow, so stayed tuned.