Boeing’s Starliner Uncrewed Test Flight Lands Safely

Boeing’s Starliner Uncrewed Test Flight Lands Safely

Boeing’s uncrewed CST-100 Starliner spacecraft landed safely in New Mexico at 7:58 am ET this morning.  The successful landing brings to an end the Orbital Flight Test (OFT) for Boeing’s commercial crew system that eventually will be used to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS).  The landing is a week earlier than planned because it could not achieve one of its main objectives — docking with the ISS — because it placed itself into the wrong orbit.  No one is aboard this test flight.

Starliner was successfully launched on December 20 on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket.  The Atlas V separates from Starliner while it is still suborbital.  Starliner then fires its own Orbital Maneuvering and Attitude Control (OMAC) engines to reach orbit and continue on to the ISS.  For reasons that are still being investigated, the Mission Elapsed Timer (MET) on Starliner that triggers the engine firing was set to the wrong time. Starliner’s automated systems detected it was not in the right place and fired its engines to correct its location, expending a lot of propellant.  By the time flight controllers on the ground could communicate with the spacecraft, not enough propellant remained to rendezvous and dock with ISS.

Consequently Starliner was put into an orbit that would allow it to land at its primary landing site at White Sands, New Mexico in 48 hours.   In a pre-dawn landing at 5:58 am Mountain Time (7:58 am ET) this morning, 2 days, 1 hour, and 21 minutes after launch, Starliner descended under three parachutes and settled to a soft landing atop six airbags.

View of Starliner descending under three parachutes from airborne infrared camera. Screengrab from NASA TV.
Landing teams work around Starliner, illuminated by spotlights in the pre-dawn darkness, as it rests atop its airbags after landing at White Sands, NM, December 22, 2019. Screengrab from NASA TV.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, Boeing Senior Vice President for Space and Launch Jim Chilton, and NASA Deputy Manager for the Commercial Crew Program Steve Stitch will hold a press conference at 10:00 am ET this morning to discuss the mission.

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