Science & Technology

Starliner spacecraft lands in New Mexico desert

(Update 1: Adds details of landing, changes lede and headline, minor edits)

Miami, May 25 (EFE).- The uncrewed Boeing Starliner capsule landed Wednesday without incident and at the scheduled time in the desert of New Mexico, United States, after earlier separating from the International Space Station (ISS), where it arrived last Friday with supplies and equipment.

The Starliner touched down at White Sands in the New Mexico desert at 6.49 pm local time (22:49 GMT), as scheduled, concluding a five-day trip in which the capabilities of the capsule for manned missions were put to the test

At 6:45 pm the three huge parachutes began to unfold and the airbag system was activated to cushion landing impact, according to the images broadcast live by Boeing and NASA.

Four minutes later, the capsule, which can withstand outside temperatures of up to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,648 degrees Celsius), touched down at White Sands Space Harbor.

On its homeward flight, the Starliner was carrying 270 kilograms (600 pounds) of cargo, including reusable oxygen and nitrogen tanks that provide breathable air to the ISS crew members. The tanks will be refilled and used on future space flights.

This concludes the end of the OFT-2 (Orbital Flight Test-2) mission developed between NASA and Boeing, which aims to demonstrate “the end-to-end capabilities” of this spacecraft, from takeoff to landing.

The private aerospace firm plans to obtain NASA certification to be able to transport astronauts to and from the ISS, as the private firm SpaceX has now done four times using its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon crew capsule.

No significant incidents have been registered so far during the OFT-2 mission except on May 19, some 30 minutes after lifting off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, when two of the capsule’s thrusters failed during its orbit-insertion burn, although the craft reached and docked with the ISS about 24 hours later with no further problem.

That incident, which triggered the operation of a backup engine, potentially will lengthen the analysis NASA will make before it certifies the craft for future operations and thus may delay the first crewed flight to the ISS, tentatively planned for late this year.

Initially, the mission was scheduled for August 2021 but Boeing decided to postpone it after detecting problems caused by the entry of humidity into some of the spacecraft’s propulsion system valves.

In December 2019, after a successful liftoff, a first attempt to send the Starliner to the ISS failed due to technical problems the prevented it from attaining the proper orbit. EFE


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