July 20, 2024

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After years of delay, the first astronauts go into space aboard a Boeing Starliner

After years of delay, the first astronauts go into space aboard a Boeing Starliner

The Starliner capsule was placed on the Atlas launch vehicle on April 16

Noos News

  • Ivo Landmann

    Online editor

  • Ivo Landmann

    Online editor

If all goes well, astronauts will go into space for the first time tonight aboard a spacecraft built by Boeing. It has a name reminiscent of a new aircraft: the CST-100 Starliner.

NASA will have a second transport to the ISS with Starliner, but Boeing in particular will be following the mission closely. The aircraft manufacturer, reeling from bad news, could use some success in space.

Boeing has been under constant criticism in recent years due to technical problems with aircraft. First with the 737 MAX, and more recently with the plane that suddenly lost part of the fuselage, wheel, or engine cover.

At the same time, the development of Starliner did not go smoothly. While rival SpaceX has had a string of successes with Crew Dragon, Boeing’s cone-shaped capsule has had problems with its software, propulsion system, rockets, parachutes and wiring. As a result, manned launch was delayed by many years and the project became much more expensive. In total, the group has spent more than $5 billion on it so far.

Space expert Ronald Klombie says the setbacks were separate from the aircraft’s problems. “These are two very different departments. But at the core of the problems they had the same reason: they wanted to do it as cheaply as possible, which is why some safety tests were not done properly at the beginning. All systems were checked, but no integrated tests were done.”

It is still possible for things to go wrong during this first flight with astronauts on board, but Lan does not expect any dangerous situations. “There are always backups of important systems.”

To be on the safe side, NASA chose two experienced astronauts: Sunita Williams and Barry Wilmore, both old enough to see the first moon landing live on television. Klombie says it’s a logical choice. “Two veterans have also been selected for the first voyage with Crew Dragon, and they are people with a certain grade Skillset. Both Dragon and Starliner are highly automated, but there may be a situation where someone has to take over the task manually. “So you need people who stay calm and don’t panic under difficult circumstances.”

NASA veterans Barry Wilmore and Sunita Williams, the Starliner’s first crew

The future of Starliner?

Boeing’s spacecraft could also be launched by another rocket, such as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 or United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan, but it is not certified for the Starliner. For this reason, new test flights will be needed. Boeing is already in dire straits, so the question is: Is there a future for Boeing’s reusable space taxi?

Because he thinks so. “There is a market for space stations, and Boeing sees that as well, and in principle is still a good player. In addition, NASA has an interest in keeping the Starliner project alive. The space organization has invested heavily in it and is also paying for it.” “This flight, it’s nice to have several capsules to get to the International Space Station.”

CST-100 Starliner on the International Space Station during a previous test flight in 2022

However, the future of the new spaceship is still uncertain, Klompe says. The sixth and final operational mission with Starliner is now scheduled to take place in 2030, the year NASA wants to say goodbye to the International Space Station. “Then they will lease services from commercial space stations. Axiom, one of the biggest contenders to operate such a new station, already leases SpaceX for its spaceflights with tourists, not Boeing.”

Klombie stresses that this test flight should go well anyway. “Boeing will want to make sure everything runs smoothly. After so many losses, it will first want to see if the project is worth further investment.”