GS Paper - 3 (Space Technology)

Boeing Co’s Starliner astronaut capsule returned from the International Space Station and landed in New Mexico on 25 May 2022, capping a high-stakes test flight as NASA’s next vehicle for carrying humans to orbit. The CST-100 Starliner capsule plunged through Earth’s atmosphere ahead of a parachute-assisted descent over the desert of White Sands Space Harbor, New Mexico.

What

  1. The roughly five-hour return trip from the space station, an orbital outpost some 250 miles above Earth, checks off the last leg of a repeat test flight that Boeing had first attempted in 2019, but failed to complete after running into software failures.
  2. The latest test mission moves Starliner, beset by repeated delays and costly engineering setbacks, a major step closer to providing NASA with a second reliable avenue for ferrying astronauts to and from the space station.
  3. Starliner was lofted to orbit on 19 May 2022 atop an Atlas V rocket furnished by the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture United Launch Alliance and achieved its main objective – a rendezvous with the ISS, even though four of its multiple onboard thrusters malfunctioned along the way.
  4. Since resuming crewed flights to orbit from American soil in 2020, nine years after the space shuttle program ended, the US space agency has had to rely solely on Falcon 9 rockets and Crew Dragon capsules from private company SpaceX.
  5. Previously, the only other option for reaching the orbiting laboratory was by hitching rides aboard Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft, an alternative currently less attractive in light of heightened US-Russian tensions over the war in Ukraine.
  6. An ill-fated first orbital test flight of Starliner in late 2019 nearly ended with the vehicle’s loss following a software glitch that effectively foiled the spacecraft’s ability to reach the space station.