With a two-year delay and a mannequin Rosie in the commander's seat, the crisis-ridden Starliner spacecraft is now on its way to the ISS. The test flight is intended to show whether the capsule is safe for astronauts. However, there are problems again.
The Starliner space capsule of the US aviation group Boeing has taken off for a test flight. At the top of an Atlas V rocket, she took off from the Cape Canaveral Cosmodrome in the US state of Florida without passengers towards the International Space Station (ISS), as shown on a live broadcast by the US space agency NASA. If everything goes according to plan, it will dock with the ISS after a good 24 hours.
Instead of a real person, a mannequin named Rosie sat in the commander's seat. It is equipped with sensors designed to collect data on movements during flight. The capsule also carries around 230 kilograms of supplies such as food, clothing and sleeping bags for the ISS crew, which orbits the earth at an altitude of around 400 kilometers.
According to NASA, two of the twelve engines that control the trajectory did not work at the start. Nevertheless, the capsule was brought on the right course with the help of a spare engine. In addition, a cooling device started too slowly. According to Boeing space executive Mark Nappi, engineers are already working to figure out "why we had these anomalies." However, he emphasized: "We have a safe vehicle and are on our way to the International Space Station." NASA executive Steve Sitch confirmed that the spacecraft is "running very well overall."
The test flight is intended to show whether the capsule is safe for transporting astronauts. A first attempt failed in 2019. At that time, software problems had almost resulted in a catastrophe, and the spacecraft had to return to Earth prematurely without reaching the ISS. Another test in 2021 was canceled at the last moment due to technical problems.
Boeing was overtaken by Tesla founder Elon Musk's space company SpaceX, whose Dragon capsule has already carried 18 astronauts and four space tourists into space on behalf of NASA since 2020. However, NASA wants to diversify its means of transport so as not to run the risk of becoming dependent on Russian Soyuz capsules again. The launch is therefore "a crucial step" to have two providers "who regularly transport crews," said NASA's Deputy Director of the ISS Program, Dana Weigel.
The stakes are high for Boeing. The aviation group hopes to be able to carry out a first manned flight by the end of the year. This second demonstration mission is essential to finally gain approval from NASA.