(ORDO NEWS) — Boeing’s Second Orbital Flight Test (OFT-2) has been officially declared a success.
The verdict was delivered by NASA and Boeing executives at a press briefing on Thursday, hours after the aerospace giant’s Starliner capsule returned to Earth to complete OFT-2, a critical uncrewed demonstration mission on the International Space Station (ISS).
The Starliner landed at the White Sands Missile Range, a US Army facility in New Mexico, at 00:49 UTC Thursday, touching down in the desert 500 meters from the target landing point.
Steve Stich, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Manager, called the landing “perfect” during a briefing on Wednesday night and said the test flight accomplished all of its objectives.
For Boeing, this success was hard-won and long delayed. The first OFT, which launched in December 2019, ended prematurely when Starliner experienced a software glitch that prevented it from flying to the ISS.
The OFT-2 flight was originally scheduled to launch last summer, but problems with stuck valves in the Starliner’s propulsion system led to the flight being canceled just hours before liftoff. After an eight-month delay, OFT-2 finally got off the ground last Thursday (May 19).
The OFT-2 mission went smoothly from start to finish, although there were a few minor hiccups. For example, two of the engines on the Starliner service module failed during orbital insertion, which occurred about 30 minutes after launch.
And on Friday (May 20), as the Starliner approached the space station, two more thrusters had to be shut down, this time in the capsule’s reaction control system.
In both cases, the backup systems worked as intended, and neither problem significantly affected the course of the flight. However, the Starliner’s engines will be the subject of several post-flight checks and tests in the near future.
“This flight is the only way to prepare the ship for crewed flight testing,” said Stitch. “Once we have processed all the data, we will be ready to fly the crew on this ship.”
Engineers will shortly move the Starliner in preparation for transport to Boeing’s base at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Mark Nappi, vice president and head of Boeing’s commercial crew program, said he expects Starliner to return to KSC around June 9.
“Then we’ll get the ship ready for CTM-1,” Nappi said, referring to the Starliner 1 crew test flight, the spacecraft’s first planned flight with astronauts aboard.
NASA astronaut Sunie Williams, who also participated in the post-landing briefing, expressed her excitement about the possibility of flying the craft on future missions, although the exact crew composition has yet to be determined.
Starliner delivered almost 227 kg of cargo and supplies for astronauts aboard the space station and lowered about 272 kg of equipment to Earth.
Representatives from NASA and Boeing have not set a clear timeline for the first crewed flight of the Starliner. But they said they were looking at the end of 2022 as a potential target.
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