Abandoned Starliner spacecraft to disassemble and re-enter – Spaceflight Now

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft docked at the International Space Station. credit: NASA

Astronauts on the International Space Station closed the hatch to Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft on Tuesday, and ground teams used the lab’s robotic arm to examine the capsule’s heat shield to scan the experimental craft for decoding Wednesday and return to Earth in the late afternoon for landing in New Mexico.

The Boeing-owned spacecraft was launched last Thursday and docked at the space station Friday night, arriving at the orbiting research complex for the first time after officials aborted a test flight in 2019. The space station, followed a few hours later by a parachute-assisted airbag landing in White Sands Space Harbor.

NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren and Bob Haynes closed the front hatch of the Starliner spacecraft at 3 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT) on Tuesday. Haynes became the first person to put the Starliner spacecraft into orbit on Saturday, when station crew opened the hatch and began three days of inspections and departures inside the capsule’s crew cabin.

Lindgren and Hines, who arrived at the station aboard the SpaceX Dragon capsule last month, performed several tests inside the Starliner capsule while it was on the space station. They performed communications checks inside the Starliner spacecraft, unloaded about 500 pounds of cargo, and then replaced it with about 600 pounds of cargo for return to Earth.

The Starliner is scheduled to disembark from the station at 2:36 PM EDT (1836 GMT) on Wednesday, then retreat to a safe distance from the complex before burning the throttle for 58 seconds at 6:05 PM EDT (2205). GMT) to drop out of orbit.

The crew unit, which is designed for reuse, will abandon the disposable service unit at 6:08 p.m. EDT (2208 GMT). The service unit contains the aborted ship’s engines, solar panels, radiator, and other equipment.

The service module will burn during re-entry over the Pacific Ocean, while the Starliner crew module – containing an instrumented test dummy called “Rosie” – will orient itself using 12 control thrusters to steer its sharp end forward to counteract a superflow – heating the air as it sinks into the atmosphere .

Astronauts Jessica Watkins, Bob Hines, Kjell Lindgren and Samantha Cristoforetti at the International Space Station Tuesday. Credit: NASA TV / Spaceflight Now

The 15-foot-wide (4.6-meter) Starliner capsule is traveling 25 times faster, and will experience the first visible traces of the atmosphere at 6:33 p.m. EDT (4:33 p.m. EDT; 2233 GMT). Temperatures outside the capsule reach 3000°F (1650°C).

The protective capsule will protect your basal heat, ceramic tiles, and thermal blankets as you head toward the white sands.

The human-classified spacecraft will fly over Mexico, passing just west of El Paso before launching a parachute propagation sequence at an altitude of about 30,000 feet (9 kilometers).

The Starliner will ditch its upper heat shield and deploy a pair of circular awnings. Then the mortars would fire and the pilot chutes would pull three main parachutes from their bags at 6:45 PM EDT (4:45 PM EDT; 2245 GMT). Less than a minute later, the capsule will release the lower heat shield, allowing the airbags to inflate to an altitude of about 3,000 feet (900 meters).

Landing is scheduled for 6:49 PM EDT (4:49 PM EDT; 2249 GMT) at White Sands Spaceport, part of the US Army’s missile range. The first test flight of the Starliner, which was cut short due to software problems in 2019, successfully landed at White Sands.

The facility was used by NASA in 1982 to land the space shuttle Columbia in 1982. Columbia landed on an unpaved runway at White Sands to finish NASA’s third space shuttle mission.

Boeing’s Starliner is the first US crew-rated capsule designed to return from orbit to land on Earth. The Russian Soyuz capsule is also designed for a land landing, but SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft and NASA’s Orion deep space capsule—like the Apollo Command Module from the 1960s and 1970s—drop into the ocean at the end of their missions.

Meteorologists are forecasting favorable weather Wednesday for the Starliner spacecraft’s landing in White Sands. Boeing’s backup landing site for this mission is Willcox Playa in Arizona. The Starliner program has also surveyed potential landing sites at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah and Edwards Air Force Base in California, as well as two potential landing areas at White Sands.

The OFT-2 mission is a precursor before NASA will allow astronauts to travel on the next Starliner mission to the International Space Station. After landing, Boeing will transport the Starliner capsule to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for refurbishment and use in a future crew mission.

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