The Extended Stay of Boeing’s Starliner Capsule on the ISS

The Extended Stay of Boeing’s Starliner Capsule on the ISS

NASA and Boeing have decided to further extend the first crewed flight of Boeing's Starliner capsule, named “Calypso,” at the International Space Station. The decision was made to conduct additional testing on the ground, without setting a new target date for the capsule's return. This decision comes after the planned nine-day mission has already extended to 24 days and counting.

Boeing and NASA are set to conduct a test campaign of the spacecraft's thruster technology at White Sands, New Mexico. This testing is crucial to gather more data about the spacecraft's performance, specifically focusing on its thruster system. NASA's Commercial Crew manager, Steve Stich, mentioned that the testing is aimed at replicating in-flight conditions as closely as possible on the ground. The testing is expected to take a couple of weeks before Starliner is cleared for its return to Earth.

Despite the delay in the return of the Starliner capsule, NASA and Boeing assured that the spacecraft is safe to return at any point in case of an emergency. The decision to extend the stay at the ISS is solely to gather more information about the spacecraft's performance. The goal is to thoroughly examine the thruster system before planning the capsule's landing. NASA and Boeing emphasized that the crew, Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams, are not stranded in space and are not in any danger.

The crewed flight test of the Starliner capsule is a significant step towards NASA certifying Boeing to fly crew on operational, six-month missions to the ISS. However, similar to its uncrewed missions in the past, the current mission has faced several challenges and setbacks. Once considered a competitor to SpaceX's Dragon, Starliner has now slipped into a backup position for NASA. The plans to have SpaceX and Boeing alternate in flying astronauts to the ISS.

The decision to delay the return of the Starliner capsule was influenced by thruster issues that occurred during the mission. The ground testing at White Sands will provide an opportunity to closely examine the thruster system and ensure that there are no anomalies in its performance. The testing is scheduled to begin as early as Tuesday and will the plan for the capsule's landing. Boeing and NASA expressed confidence in the safety of Starliner despite the extended stay in orbit.

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Boeing's Starliner program Vice President, Mark Nappi, reiterated that the crew is not in any danger and there is no increased risk in deciding when to bring the astronauts back to Earth. Both NASA and Boeing representatives emphasized that the extended stay and ground testing are part of an experimental mission to study Starliner further, rather than a response to a critical issue. The spacecraft is designed for missions lasting up to 210 days, showing confidence in its capabilities.

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