Engineers at Boeing can let out a big sigh of relief.
The defense contractor’s much-delayed Starliner spacecraft finally made its way into stable orbit Thursday evening, after launching atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida, the culmination of years of setbacks and complications.
But even in the course of that small victory, not everything went according to plan. Two of Starliner’s thrusters didn’t fire as planned just over 30 minutes into the flight. One thruster only managed to provide orbital insertion thrust for a single second. Its backup fired for 25 seconds before also giving up.
Fortunately, a third backup thruster was able to heave Starliner into stable orbit.
Boeing claims everything went as planned.
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“The docking occurred about an hour later than expected as ground crews worked through a few issues, including a software issue that skewed graphics, sort of like a misaligned GPS map. There were also issues with sensors and some docking components that were not initially moving correctly.
The capsule has a docking ring that pops out as it approaches its port and is used to latch on to the ISS. During the first attempt at docking, some components didn’t move into the proper configuration. Ground teams had to try the pop-out process a second time to get everything in the right place. There had also been a small problem with the Starliner’s cooling loops, which are part of the system that regulates the spacecraft’s temperature.”
Reportedly Boeing’s engineers have narrowed the thruster issues down to “six or seven” possible causes, with three that seemed most likely.
But according to Mark Nappi, Boeing’s Starliner program manager, “We may never know what the real cause of this is”. https://www.cnn.com/2022/05/23/tech/boeing-starliner-issues-whats-next-scn/index.html
Boeing has been paid $5.1 billion by NASA for the Starliner program since 2010