Starliner approved for release and re-entry – Spaceflight Now

The Boeing Starliner docked at the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

Astronauts on the International Space Station closed the hatch on Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft on Tuesday, and ground crews used the lab’s robotic arm to inspect the capsule’s thermal shield to clear the test vehicle for release and release. for landing late in the afternoon in New Mexico.

The Boeing-owned spacecraft was launched last Thursday and docked at the space station on Friday night, reaching the research complex in orbit for the first time since officials canceled a test flight in 2019. The unmanned demonstration mission will be completed an automated departure from the space station, followed a few hours later by a parachute-assisted airbag that landed at White Sands Space Harbor.

NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren and Bob Hines closed the front hatch of the Starliner spacecraft at 3 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT) on Tuesday. Hines became the first man to board a Starliner spacecraft in orbit on Saturday when the station crew opened the hatch and began three days of inspections and checks inside the capsule crew cabin.

Lindgren and Hines, who arrived at the station on a SpaceX Dragon capsule last month, performed several tests inside the Starliner capsule during her stay on the space station. They performed communication tests inside the Starliner spacecraft, unpacked about 500 pounds of cargo and then replaced it with about 600 pounds of cargo to return to Earth.

The Starliner is scheduled to disconnect from the station at 2:36 p.m. EDT (1836 GMT) on Wednesday, and then return to a safe distance from the band before braking 58 seconds at 6:05 p.m. EDT (2205 GMT) to fall off track.

The crew unit, designed for reuse, will dispose of the disposable service unit at 6:08 p.m. EDT (2208 GMT). The service unit houses the ship’s propulsion engines, solar panels, radiators and other equipment.

The service unit will burn on re-entry into the Pacific Ocean, while the Starliner crew unit – which features a test model with the nickname “Rosie” – will be oriented using 12 control propellers to turn its blunt end forward to face a flow of super-heated air as it sinks into the atmosphere.

Astronauts Jessica Watkins, Bob Hines, Kjell Lindgren and Samantha Cristoforetti at the International Space Station on Tuesday. Credit: NASA TV / Spaceflight Now

Traveling at 25 times the speed of sound, the 15-foot-wide (4.6-meter) Starliner capsule will meet the first visible traces of the atmosphere at 6:33 p.m. EDT (4:33 PM MDT, 2233 GMT). Temperatures outside the capsule will reach 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,650 degrees Celsius).

An abstract thermal base shield, ceramic tiles and thermal blankets will protect the capsule as it faces White Sands.

The manned spacecraft will fly over Mexico, passing just west of El Paso before activating the parachute development sequence at an altitude of about 30,000 feet (9 kilometers).

The Starliner will drop its upper thermal shield and develop a pair of drogue parachutes. The mortars will then launch and the pilots will pull three main parachutes out of their bags at 6:45 p.m. EDT (4:45 PM MDT, 2245 GMT). Less than a minute later, the capsule will release the bottom of the thermal shield, allowing the airbags to inflate to about 3,000 feet (900 meters).

Touchdown is scheduled for 6:49 p.m. EDT (4:49 PM MDT, 2249 GMT) at White Sands Space Harbor, part of the US Army White Sands Missile Range. The first Starliner test flight, which was interrupted due to software problems in 2019, landed successfully in White Sands.

The facility was used by NASA in 1982 to land the Columbia space shuttle in 1982. Columbia approached an unpaved landing strip in White Sands to complete NASA’s third space shuttle mission.

The Boeing Starliner is the first US crew-evaluated capsule designed to return from orbit to land. The Russian Soyuz capsule is also designed to land, but SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft and NASA’s Orion deep-space crew capsule – like the Apollo spacecraft from the 1960s and 1970s – fall into the ocean at the end of missions. their.

Meteorologists forecast favorable weather on Wednesday for the landing of the Starliner spacecraft in White Sands. Boeing’s backup landing site for this mission is Willcox Playa in Arizona. The Starliner project has also investigated possible landing sites at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah and Edwards Air Force Base in California, in addition to two possible landing zones in White Sands.

The OFT-2 mission is a precursor before NASA allowed the astronauts to fly to the next Starliner mission to the International Space Station. After landing, Boeing will transport the Starliner capsule back to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for refurbishment and use on a future crew mission.

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