Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft is officially on its way to the International Space Station (ISS) after a 2.5-year delay.

The Atlas V rocket of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) launched from the Cape Canaveral Space Forces station in Florida on Thursday (May 19) at 18:54 EDT (2254 GMT), carrying the Starliner up on an unmanned mission called Orbital Flight Test 2 (OFT-2).

If all goes according to plan, Starliner will board the ISS on Friday night (May 20) and spend four to five days in the orbital laboratory before returning to Earth for a parachute landing in the western United States. Success on all these fronts will probably show that the Boeing spacecraft is ready to transport NASA astronauts to and from the station.

Starliner entered the correct orbit after separating from Atlas B on Thursday, a huge cornerstone for Boeing and NASA. The capsule eventually failed to meet the ISS during the initial OFT in December 2019 after suffering some software problems shortly after launch. And it failed to come out of the ground when OFT-2 first appeared on the site last summer; pre-launch checks detected faulty valves in the Starliner propulsion system, a problem that took about eight months to solve.

The take-off of OFT-2 was also a big milestone for the ULA, marking the rocket company’s 150th launch, a joint effort by Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

At a press conference after the launch on Thursday night, NASA and Boeing experts hurried to congratulate their various teams for the hard work that led to the successful launch.

“Today was just a huge day for the sales crew,” said Steve Stitch, NASA’s sales crew program manager. While listing the obstacles and starting stages of the day’s events, he also mentioned a small Starliner malfunction.

During the spacecraft’s orbital burn, which occurred 31 minutes after takeoff, two of Starliner’s pushers did not fire as expected. The first failed in just one second. His backup immediately turned on and managed to work for another 25 seconds before it also failed. Reservation tanks activated a tertiary reserve for the engine group and Starliner was able to complete the crucial burn without incident.

The Boeing spacecraft is equipped with four of these propulsion groups in its rear section, referred to in the industrial nomenclature as “dog houses”, each containing three orbital maneuvering and position control (OMAC) propulsion devices used to perform significant maneuvers. , such as those that achieve orbital insertion. The two OMAC pushers that broke down and the third that intervened to compensate were in the same dog cabin at the rear of the Starliner, Boeing officials said.

“The system is designed to be redundant and works as it should. The team is now working on “why” why these anomalies occurred, “said Mark Napie, vice president and program manager for Boeing’s crew sales program.

Napi stressed that the problem is not one that needs to be resolved before the completion of the OFT-2 mission. During the briefing, Stitch pointed out that Starliner had committed a second significant burn with the same OMAC engines, setting it on a course to meet with International Space Station.

“This is the second burn we did хме we used this third pusher in this kennel and it worked well for all this burning. So it doesn’t look like it’s common to all three. And like Mark [Nappi] he said, they started firing properly. “The first one fired, and the second one picked up, fired for 25 seconds,” Stitch said.

“So, we’re just going to have to go through a little more troubleshooting and see if we can figure out why these two thrusters haven’t finished this orbital burnout,” he added.

Starliner will catch up with the space station on Friday night (May 20). Once about 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the orbital laboratory, the spacecraft will demonstrate stopping and retreating maneuvers before moving to the ossicle at about 7:10 p.m. EDT (2310 GMT).

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