The International Space Station is a remarkable architecture representing humanity’s curiosity to solve the riddles of space. It contributes towards a better understanding of the universe. It is essential to maintain the gigantic structure in the space. Hence, after completing the first phase of the Starliner mission, NASA plans for its next edition. NASA and Boeing are now targeting to launch Starliner’s second uncrewed flight test on 29th March 2021 to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.
About Starliner Mission
The Starliner mission( or the Boeing Orbital Flight Test) is the first orbital mission conducted under the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. As the name suggests, the mission runs under Boeing’s flagship as a part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The first mission was the eight-day test flight of the spaceship. The primary objectives were to dock with the International Space Station and then landing on a site near the western United States of America. Boeing collaborated with NASA for this mission to accommodate seven passengers or a mixture of the crew along with the cargo for low-Earth orbit missions. The Boeing spaceflight carried an Anthropomorphic Test Device (ATD). The ATD had Boeing’s custom flight suit. The ATD, named Rose, pays homage to all the women who helped contribute to the Starliner Program.
Issues arose during the Initial Phase
Merely thirty-one minutes after the launch of the first Starliner mission, scientists observed an error in the mission elapsed timer(MET) clock. After completing the first phase, in a press conference, NASA confirmed that the MET got an offset of eleven hours that forced an abort to the ISS. Because of the irregular and sporadic space-to-ground communication issues, the flight controllers could not rectify the problem. As a result, the spacecraft’s Orbital Maneuvering Thrusters (OMTs) let it burn into an incorrect and different orbit. Scientists observed that this resulted in excessive use of propellant and spacecraft fuel. Many more revelations came out regarding a critical software bug found in the flight that could have resulted in the service module bumping back into Starliner after the initiation of the separation process. This software bug was so severe that it might have prevented a proper soft landing and damaged the entire landing system.
About the Second Phase
For the next phase, Orbital Flight Test (OFT-2), the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. The spacecraft will be released from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Prior to the OFT-2 mission, flight control teams from NASA and Boeing completed an integrated launch-to-docking simulation during August 2020. This simulation has additional equipment on the horizon because the teams wanted to fine-tune the flight rules and procedures. NASA has reported completing the Centaur upper stage for CFT and the entire hardware system for the CFT mission. Both NASA and Boeing believe that mission is on the track of launching in early 2021. But, the development of hardware components for the support system in CFT is still in progress. Also, scientists have modified the vehicle’s docking system to accommodate the new cover and outfitting of subsystem components. They have also amplified the power electronics in the vehicle’s reusable crew module. The other final checkouts to test and get the quality assurance of the avionics, power, and propulsion systems are nearing the completion stage.
Features of Starliner Mission Spacecraft & Spacesuit
- Automated control with back-up manual control.
- Parachutes and airbags to reduce the shock impact during the land returns instead of water returns.
- Reusable capsule to reuse at least ten times.
- Autonomous docking to minimize the training time for crews.
- Pad abort system to tackle with an emergency.
- Soft helmet with zipper closure.
- Crew communication cap assembly.
- Rate-sensitive foam with a hard cranial headband.
- Touch-screen friendly gloves.
- Dual suit controller to maintain the pressure.
- Breathable leg pockets to hold a survival kit.
- Waist zipper.
- Wireless internet communication will help keep the crew communication stable and docking with the International Space Station.
- An innovative weldless design eliminates traditional welding structural risks associated with it that reduce mass and production time.
The scientists, during the second phase of development, have upgraded the hardware and software of the mission. However, some of the equipment is still in development, while some are in the testing phase. The scientists’ most significant achievement is that they cracked more errors that have not come but observed after the MET clock’s offset glitch. If the mission becomes successful, it will boost NASA for more crew missions for the distant planets and planetary objects apart from the Mars and Moon for which they are planning.