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Updates after docking

WASHINGTON (AWP/AFP) – A Boeing Starliner capsule docked for the first time Friday at the International Space Station, a success for the company that in the future must transport NASA astronauts, even if this empty test flight is years late. SpaceX.

The ISS docked at 8:28 p.m. EST (00:28 GMT on Saturday), more than an hour behind schedule due to final checks during the maneuvers, which were meticulously designed at an altitude of 400 km. over our heads. .

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station and the control room in Houston have closely monitored this approach. The Starliner was first settled about 250 yards from the station. Then, after a slight advance, the capsule retracted to demonstrate that it could retract if necessary.

Finally, after a new controlled, although longer than expected, stop at 10 meters, the final accurate maneuver was started, which was carried out while the station was turning at a speed of 28,000 km / h. The car approached slowly, until it touched.

“The Starliner spacecraft has successfully completed its historic first docking with the International Space Station, opening a new path to the crewed flying laboratory,” said a commentator on the US Space Agency’s live broadcast.

The capsule slot won’t open until Saturday. Boeing is transporting about 230 kilograms of supplies on behalf of NASA, including food.

The Starliner must remain docked at the International Space Station for about five days, before descending to Earth for a landing in the deserts of the US state of New Mexico, on a white sand foundation.

This unmanned test flight was actually attempted in 2019, but then the capsule had many problems and had to return without being able to reach the station.

Since then, Boeing has been struggling to catch up with SpaceX, a newcomer to the aerospace sector by comparison, but it has been flying NASA astronauts since 2020, after successful qualifying flights for its own capsule, Dragon.

thrusters bug

The Starliner took off from Florida on Thursday aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket.

About 30 minutes after launch, the capsule was able to put itself on track, but two of its 12 thrusts failed. But NASA and Boeing officials played down the incident, which they said should not affect the mission.

The thrusters will be used again at the end of the mission, for a maneuver aimed at returning the capsule to Earth’s atmosphere. But the problem doesn’t “need to be resolved” beforehand by then, previous batches have worked nonetheless, NASA’s Steve Stitch estimated during a Thursday evening news conference.

NASA also emphasized on its blog Friday that the system “does not pose a risk to the remainder of the test flight.”

damaged image

A finally successful mission from start to finish will slightly restore the aviation giant’s image, after repeated setbacks in recent years.

In 2019, the capsule could not be placed in the correct orbit due to a clock problem. Then Boeing realized that other software issues had almost caused a serious flight malfunction.

Then, in 2021, when the rocket was already on the launch pad to try to fly again, a moisture problem caused a chemical reaction that prevented some valves in the capsule from opening. She had to return to the factory for inspection – for ten months.

After this blank test, a second test of the spacecraft must be run for NASA approval, this time with astronauts on board. The timing will depend on how the Starliner performs this week, but Boeing plans to fly by the end of the year.

For the US space agency, too, the stakes are high, having invested heavily in developing the ship. NASA has fixed-price contracts with Boeing and SpaceX worth billions of dollars.

Choosing to use two companies should make it possible to encourage competition and not risk again, in the event of a problem for one or the other, of finding themselves without an American “taxi” to the International Space Station. After the space shuttles closed in 2011, and into 2020, NASA has already been reduced to paying for places in Russian Soyuz rockets.

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