Two astronauts could be hightailing it to the International Space Station (ISS) in less than three months.
NASA says the Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft will embark on its first crewed test flight to the ISS this April. The space agency has made significant progress in resolving technical issues identified during the flight certification process, according to a statement shared Wednesday.
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The Starliner has had a shaky history. The capsule failed a test flight in 2019 before it eventually completed an unmanned mission to the ISS in 2022. Since then, several ongoing issues have caused NASA to delay the Starliner’s inaugural crewed mission. Fortunately, the agency appears to be solving the problems, and the craft is nearly ready for space.
NASA said that it completed a successful drop test earlier this month in which it was able to validate recent modifications to the spacecraft’s parachute system. Over the next six to eight weeks, the team will carry out a final analysis of the test data and complete an overall system certification. (This process is designed to check that the Starliner’s parachute system meets crew safety requirements.)
In addition, Boeing has removed more than 17 pounds (roughly 4,300 feet) of P213 tape from the Starliner’s crew module. The material may have posed a flammability risk in certain environmental conditions, according to NASA.
The crew is brushing up, too. Mission support teams recently completed a two-day undock-to-landing dress rehearsal with the recovery crew on the ground at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Teams carried out various procedures and sequences, including power up, undock, entry, landing, and crew recovery. The rehearsal also gave NASA and Boeing a chance to practice Starliner’s return to Earth before the upcoming flight.
The team still has work to do before takeoff, of course, including putting the finishing touches on the Starliner, rehearsing every phase of the mission, fueling the spacecraft, preparing the rocket, and completing a detailed systems check.
The Starliner will launch aboard a ULA (United Launch Alliance) Atlas V rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams will be carried to the ISS, spending up to two weeks aboard the orbiting laboratory before returning to the Starliner to land in the southwest United States. You can follow NASA’s Crew Flight Test Mission blog for the latest information regarding Starliner’s progress.
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