First manned flight of the Starliner will take place in April

Representatives of NASA and Boeing held a joint press conference on the progress of preparations for the first manned flight of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. According to those responsible, it will take place in the second half of April.

Starliner Test History

The CST-100 Starliner was developed by Boeing under a NASA contract issued under the CCP program. Its goal is to create commercial manned spacecraft designed to deliver astronauts to the ISS. The second contract for this program went to SpaceX, which built the Crew Dragon spacecraft.

The Boeing Starliner spacecraft docked with the ISS. Photo: NASA

The first unmanned test of the Starliner took place back in December 2019. But due to the incorrect operation of the propulsion system, the spacecraft did not have enough fuel to dock with the ISS, which led to the disruption of the test program. As a result, Boeing had to make a decision to carry out another unmanned launch.

The next Starliner test was scheduled for August 2021. However, the flight was disrupted due to damage to the valves responsible for supplying fuel to the orbital engines. This was due to the leakage of diazote tetroxide (used as an oxidizer). It mixed with the moisture trapped inside the spacecraft, forming nitric acid, which damaged the valves. The damage was so severe that Boeing had to completely replace the Starline service module. 

As a result, a new test of the Starliner took place in May 2022. This time the spacecraft managed to dock with the ISS, although this time it was not without some problems. Nevertheless, according to the test results, NASA approved the first test flight of a Starliner with a crew.

Preparing for a new Starliner flight

At a joint press conference held on February 17, representatives of NASA and Boeing said that preparations for the first manned flight of the Starliner were proceeding normally. During this mission, the spacecraft will deliver astronauts Barry Wilmore and Sunita Williams to the ISS. They will spend eight days aboard the orbital complex, after which they will return to Earth.

Preparation of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. Source: NASA

At the moment, NASA and Boeing have done 80% of all the work needed to conduct the test. The next important milestone will be passed in early March, when the Starliner will be refueled. This is due to the norm introduced by Boeing, according to which the refueling of the spacecraft should be carried out no more than 60 days before the flight. This is one of the measures aimed at reducing the risk of recurrence of valve problems. In addition, Boeing engineers have implemented a system for purging and sealing connectors, which should also reduce the risk of moisture entering the spacecraft. In the future, the Starliner will receive a fully upgraded propulsion system.

Work is also underway to determine the cause of the failure of the orbital maneuvering system engines during the previous Starliner flight. During the analysis of telemetry, engineers identified several possible causes, after which additional tests were carried out. Their results are still being analyzed.

At the moment, the launch of the Starliner is scheduled for the second half of April. An Atlas V rocket will be used for the mission.

According to

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