Starliner capsule returns to Earth
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.