Boeing Starliner completes docking with International Space Station

Success completes the programme's crucial second orbital flight test following two years of delays

Boeing's Starliner capsule docks with the International Space Station in this Nasa TV video image. AFP
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Boeing's Starliner spacecraft docked with the International Space Station on Friday, completing the programme's crucial second orbital flight test and the first docking for the company.

The CST-100 Starliner, which did not have astronauts on board, reached the ISS about 26 hours after it was launched on top of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Thursday.

Its autonomous systems were guided by ground controllers in Houston through a “carefully choreographed series of manoeuvres”, the US aerospace company said in a statement.

Astronauts aboard the ISS monitored the spacecraft throughout the flight and at times commanded it to verify its control capabilities, the statement said.

The “successful docking of the Starliner is another important step in this rehearsal for sending astronauts into orbit safely and reliably,” Ted Colbert, president and chief executive of Boeing Defence, Space and Security, said in the statement.

The Starliner's docking came after two years of delays in a programme designed to give the National Aeronautics and Space Administration an alternative means to transport astronauts to the ISS.

Other companies are seeking to collaborate with Nasa and the wider community in an effort to capitalise on the increasing potential of the space economy.

On April 27, a Falcon 9 rocket from Elon Musk's SpaceX company blasted off and arrived at the ISS, carrying four astronauts for Nasa.

Nasa had also selected Orbital Reef, led by Blue Origin, the space venture of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and Sierra Space to design a commercially-owned and operated space station in low-Earth orbit.

It is part of the administration's programme to shift its research and exploration activities to commercial space stations and help stimulate the growing space economy before the ISS is retired.

Space tourism is starting to take shape. In July last year, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson blasted into space aboard a rocket built by his space tourism company Virgin Galactic. Later that month, it was Mr Bezos's turn to take a trip aboard one of Blue Origin's rockets.

The gumdrop-shaped Starliner, which is equipped with a fully-functional life support system, spent its first hours in space performing a series of system demonstrations allowing mission managers to verify the spacecraft was healthy and able to manoeuvre safely, Boeing's statement said. After docking, it recharged its batteries using solar arrays located on its service module.

“Starliner has proven safe, autonomous rendezvous and docking capability. We’re honoured to join the fleet of commercial spacecraft capable of conducting transportation services to the space station for Nasa,” Jim Chilton, senior vice president for Boeing Space and Launch, said in the statement.

During the Starliner's docked time on orbit, ISS crew will conduct a cabin tour and periodically perform system checks while ground controllers evaluate data gathered during its time in space.

Updated: May 21, 2022, 10:35 AM