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Boeing Starliner's flight test

(22 December 2019 - NASA, Boeing) Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft completed the first land touchdown of a human-rated US-built capsule in on Sunday at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico, wrapping up the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Starliner settled gently onto its airbags at 7:58 a.m. EST (5:58 a.m. MST) in a pre-dawn landing that helps set the stage for future crewed landings at the same site. The landing followed a deorbit burn at 7:23 a.m., separation of the spacecraft’s service module, and successful deployment of its three main parachutes and six airbags.

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The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is seen after it landed in White Sands, New Mexico, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019. The landing completes an abbreviated Orbital Flight Test for the company that still meets several mission objectives for NASA’s Commercial Crew program. The Starliner spacecraft launched on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at 6:36 a.m. Friday, Dec. 20 from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. (courtesy: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Shortly after its December 20 launch and separation from its booster rocket, Starliner experienced a mission timing anomaly that made it use too much fuel to reach the intended destination of the International Space Station. Flight controllers were able to address the issue and put Starliner into a lower, stable orbit. The vehicle demonstrated key systems and capabilities before being signaled to return to Earth.

"The Starliner team's quick recovery and ability to achieve many mission objectives – including safe deorbit, re-entry and landing – is a testament to the people of Boeing who have dedicated years of their lives working toward the achievement of commercial human spaceflight," said John Mulholland, vice president and program manager of Boeing's Commercial Crew Program. "Their professionalism and collaboration with our NASA customer in challenging conditions allowed us to make the most of this mission."

The Starliner landing demonstrated the robustness of its landing systems, including its innovative parachutes and airbags.

Although this Starliner carried no people, it did have a passenger. An anthropometric test device, named "Rosie," was in the commander's seat for the entire mission. She was outfitted with about a dozen sensors that collected data to help prove Starliner is safe for future human crews.

Next, this crew module will be returned to Florida for data retrieval, analysis and refurbishment for future missions. It is the vehicle chosen to fly NASA astronauts Sunita "Suni" Williams and Josh Cassada, along with two international partner astronauts, on the first operational mission. In parallel, Boeing's Starliner team is finalizing the vehicle that will fly Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson and NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann on the Crewed Flight Test.

“Congratulations to the NASA and Boeing teams on a bullseye landing of the Starliner. The hardest parts of this orbital flight test were successful,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “This is why we conduct these tests, to learn and improve our systems. The information gained from this first mission of Starliner will be critical in our efforts to strengthen NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and return America’s human spaceflight capability.”

Although Starliner did not reach its planned orbit and dock to the International Space Station as planned, Boeing was able to complete a number of test objectives during the flight related to NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, including:

  • Successful launch of the first human-rated United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket
    Checked out the Starliner propulsion systems
    Tested space-to-space communications
    Confirmed Starliner tracker alignments using its navigation system
    Validated all environment control and life support systems
    Completed a positive command uplink between the International Space Station and Starliner

“Today’s successful landing of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is a testament to the women and men who have dedicated themselves to ensuring Starliner can safely transport crews to low-Earth orbit and back to Earth,” said Boeing Senior Vice President of Space and Launch Jim Chilton. “The Starliner Orbital Flight Test has and will continue to provide incredibly valuable data that we, along with the NASA team, will use to support future Starliner missions launched from and returning to American soil.”

“This mission has only strengthened the resolve of the NASA, ULA, and Boeing teams," said NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard. "Systems were tested, but more importantly the teams were tested. The hardest parts of this mission were a tremendous success. The Commercial Crew Program is strong. But keep in mind, this is a great reminder that human exploration is not for the faint of heart. We are just getting started!”