Boeing’s second Starliner mission to the ISS, one or the other moment of hiatus


Now, Boeing is going to do a high-risk remake of this mission. On August 3, Orbital Flight Test 2, or OFT-2, will send the Starliner back to the ISS. The company cannot afford another failure.

“There’s a lot of credibility involved here,” says Greg Autry, a space policy expert at Arizona State University. “Nothing is more visible than space systems that fly people.”

The afternoon of July 30 was a stark reminder of this visibility. After Russia’s new 23-ton multipurpose Nauka module docked at the ISS, it began firing its thrusters unexpectedly and without command, pushing the ISS out of its proper and normal position in orbit. NASA and Russia fixed the problem and stabilized everything in less than an hour, but we still don’t know what happened and it’s frustrating to think what might have happened had the conditions been worse. The whole incident is still under investigation and forced NASA to delay the Starliner launch from July 31 to August 3.

It is exactly what Boeing wants to avoid this type of near-catastrophic situation for any future mission with the OFT-2 and people on board.

How did Starliner get here?

The closure of the space shuttle program in 2011 gave NASA a chance to rethink its approach. Rather than build a new spacecraft designed to travel to low Earth orbit, the agency has chosen to open up opportunities to the private sector as part of a new Commercial Crew Program. He awarded Boeing and SpaceX contracts to build their own crewed vehicles: Starliner and Crew Dragon, respectively. NASA would purchase flights with these vehicles and focus its efforts on creating new technologies for missions to the moon, Mars, and elsewhere.

Both companies suffered development delays, and for nine years NASA’s only way to go to space was to give Russia millions of dollars for seats on Soyuz missions. SpaceX finally sent astronauts into space in May 2020 (followed by two more crewed missions since), but Boeing is still lagging behind. The December 2019 flight was supposed to prove that all its systems were working and that it could dock with the ISS and safely return to Earth. But a glitch with the internal clock causing it to perform a premature critical burn, making docking with the ISS impossible.

A later investigation second glitch It could have caused the Starliner to fire its thrusters at the wrong time as it descended back to Earth, which could have destroyed the spacecraft. This glitch was fixed just hours before the Starliner returned home. Software problems in spacecraft development are not unexpected, but they are a thing. Boeing could have fixed it ahead of time with better quality control or Better surveillance than NASA.

Boeing had 21 months to fix these issues. NASA never requested another Starliner flight test; Boeing chose to do this again and pay off the $410 million bill alone.

“I expect the test to go perfectly,” Autry says. “These issues involved software systems and they should be easily solvable.”

what’s at stake

If things go wrong, the repercussions will depend on what those things are. If the spacecraft encounters another set of software problems, it will likely go to hell, and it’s hard to see how Boeing’s relationship with NASA can improve. A catastrophic failure for other reasons would also be bad, but space is volatile and even minor problems that are difficult to predict and control can have explosive results. That might be more forgivable.

If the new test isn’t successful, NASA will continue to work with Boeing, but re-flight “could be in a few years,” says space policy expert Roger Handberg of the University of Central Florida. “NASA will likely return to SpaceX for more flights, putting Boeing at an even greater disadvantage.”

Boeing needs OFT-2 to go well for reasons beyond fulfilling its contract with NASA. Neither SpaceX nor Boeing built their new vehicles to perform ISS missions – each had greater ambitions. “There is real demand [for access to space] from high wealthy individuals“Since the early 2000s, several have flown on the Russian Soyuz,” Autry says. “There’s also a very strong business of flying sovereign astronaut troops of many countries that aren’t ready to make their own vehicles.”

SpaceX will prove to be very stiff competition. owner special missions—own and via Axiom Space– already planned for the next few years. You can be sure more to come, especially axiom, sierra nevadaand other companies plan to build private space stations for paying visitors.

Boeing’s biggest problem is cost. NASA pays the company $90 million per seat and SpaceX $55 million per seat to fly astronauts to the ISS. “NASA can afford them because after the shuttle problems, the agency didn’t want to be dependent on one single flight system – if that broke everything would stop,” Handberg says. But private citizens and other countries will likely opt for the cheaper and more experienced option.

Boeing could certainly use good PR these days. He’s building the main booster for the $20 billion and growing Space Launch System, which will become the world’s most powerful rocket. But high costs and huge delays made a lightning rod for criticism. Meanwhile, alternatives such as SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy and Super Heavy, Blue Origin’s New Glenn and ULA’s Vulcan Centaur have emerged or will be released in the next few years. NASA’s inspector general in 2019 Looks at potential fraud in Boeing contracts worth $661 million. And the company is one of the main characters at the center of a game. criminal investigation Containing a previous bid for a moon landing contract.

If there’s ever a time when Boeing wants to remind people of what it can and can do for the US space program, then it’s next week.

“Another failure will put Boeing far behind SpaceX and they may have to consider major changes in their approach,” Handberg says. “For Boeing, this NS to show.”


Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *