Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner was cleared off the International Space Station, setting the stage for the final act of this important end-to-end demonstration of the system. You can watch all the action live here.
Boeing Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) is rapidly coming to an end. The six-day mission began on Friday, May 19 with the launch of an uncrewed Starliner perched atop a ULA Atlas V rocket. The spacecraft successfully reached its proper orbit despite some propulsion problems, allowing it to dock with the space station the next day. Docking tests are complete, and now it’s time for Starliner to come home.
The spacecraft is scheduled to disconnect from the Harmony module at 2:36 p.m. (every hour east) and make its parachute-assisted landing around 6:49 p.m. NASA will provide full coverage of these return activities beginning at 2:00 p.m. The broadcast will pause briefly once Starliner completes its departure from the ISS, but will resume at 5:45 p.m. to cover atmospheric re-entry and landing in the western United States. Live webcasts will be available on NASA television, Boeingthe website of, Youtubeand during the live stream below.
The uncrewed Starliner is expected to land near White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico. Mission operators will check the weather at the landing site approximately one hour before ISS undocking, then conduct the “go/no go” survey 45 minutes before undocking. The team will try again on Friday in case of delay.
Here’s how OFT-2’s endgame will play out, according to the mission profile:
When cleared to depart the space station, Starliner undocks, performs a hover maneuver, and positions itself for deorbit burn to slow relative to orbital velocity in preparation for atmospheric reentry, where it encounters reentry heating 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,650 degrees Celsius). Starliner will drop the forward heat shield approximately 30,000 feet (9 km) above the ground, followed by the deployment of a series of parachutes. First, two stabilizer parachutes continue to slow Starliner, followed by the extraction of the three main parachutes. At 3,000 feet [914 meters] from the ground, the airbags inflate to further absorb the initial forces of landing, cushioning the crew for a smooth and safe return to Earth.
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That’s because unlike SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, which performs an ocean dip landing, Boeing’s Starliner performs an airbag landing in the desert. Crew Dragon has been rated by humans since 2020, but OFT-2, if all goes well, will move the program forward in that direction. Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, is overdue due to two previous failed test attempts, one in 2019 and one last year.
Expedition 67 crew members Bob Hines and Kjell Lindgren closed the spacecraft’s hatch at 3:00 p.m. Tuesday. Said Hines during the farewell ceremony“It’s been an honor to be a part of this and to be a small cog in the wheel that is the commercial crew program and the incredible teams, operations teams, design teams, that put this vehicle together. .”
Previously, a camera mounted on Canadarm2 allowed close inspection of Starliner’s thermal protection system, allowing the spacecraft to re-enter. Hines and Lindgren spent the last days carry out tests and inspections of the vehicle, in addition to removing 500 pounds of incoming cargo and adding 600 pounds of outgoing cargo for the return trip (including reusable tanks that supply air to ISS crew members).
Upon landing, Boeing’s OFT-2 mission will officially end, but there is still a lot of work to do. Mission planners will review mission data to determine spacecraft performance. As noted, the vehicle experienced propulsion failures during the Orbital Insertion Burn, so this is already a concern. Boeing and NASA hope to conduct a crewed Starliner test later this year, but that will greatly depend on the results of that test.