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Boeing’s Starliner Docks With Space Station for NASA

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Once troubleshooting of the issue was accomplished, a final nudge by the thrusters pushed it into contact with the docking port.

Following a successful return from orbit and landing, Boeing will still have additional work including investigating and fixing the glitches encountered during this flight, It also needs to finish certification of the spacecraft’s parachutes, before NASA approves Starliner for carrying astronauts. An independent safety board overseeing NASA expressed concern last week that Boeing didn’t have enough people working on this system.

“The panel will probably be monitoring the situation within the near future to see what impact, if any, this might have on the existence or mitigation of any safety risks,” said David B. West, a member of the security board.

After a crewed demonstration mission taking two of three NASA astronauts to the space station, Starliner would begin regular operations, taking crews of 4 to orbit. NASA anticipates that SpaceX and Boeing will each fly one crew mission a yr.

Nonetheless, Boeing won’t, within the short term, have the opportunity to tap into any non-NASA business as SpaceX has, launching two missions of personal residents to orbit up to now yr. For one, Boeing’s vehicle is considerably dearer. In 2019, the NASA inspector general estimated that NASA is paying $90 million for every Starliner seat while a seat on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon costs $55 million.

As well as, Boeing doesn’t have access to the rockets needed to fly Starliner missions beyond what NASA requires. Currently, the spacecraft launches on top of an Atlas 5 rocket built by United Launch Alliance. However the Atlas 5 is propelled by Russian-built RD-180 engines. In 2016, Congress decided to require that RD-180s be phased out. Boeing has enough Atlas 5 rockets to satisfy its obligations to NASA — the crewed test flight and 6 operational flights — but no more.

Starliner can fly on other rockets, including Vulcan, the successor to the Atlas 5. However the Vulcan, which has yet to make its first flight, has not been approved for crewed missions.

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