Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft has returned to Earth at the end of a crucial test mission, landing at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico at shortly before 5 p.m. local time Wednesday.
Footage shared by Boeing showed the moment the spacecraft made its parachute-assisted landing following its departure from the International Space Station (ISS) about four hours earlier in a mission that lasted six days.
Touchdown, #Starliner. At 6:49pm ET (22:49 UTC), @BoeingSpace's spacecraft landed at White Sands Space Harbor, New Mexico. Today's return from the @Space_Station marks the end of Orbital Flight Test-2, a demo providing data to help certify it to carry astronauts. pic.twitter.com/FPdo9F8XEJ
— NASA (@NASA) May 25, 2022
NASA also shared some images of the homecoming:
Check out first images from the landing of @BoeingSpace CST-100 #Starliner spacecraft as part of the Orbital Flight Test 2 at the White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico! 📷https://t.co/sulsB282OS pic.twitter.com/8K54oD0oyJ
— NASA HQ PHOTO (@nasahqphoto) May 25, 2022
Shortly after landing, Boeing tweeted this footage of engineers approaching the spacecraft. Beneath it, we can see the airbags that inflated to soften the Starliner’s landing.
— Boeing Space (@BoeingSpace) May 25, 2022
NASA said the reusable Starliner spacecraft landed about three-tenths of a mile southeast of the targeted landing spot, describing it as “basically a bull’s-eye.”
This month’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission followed a failed flight in 2019 when the Starliner was unable to hit the required orbit to reach the ISS.
A subsequent investigation surfaced a slew of software issues with the spacecraft, which were then fixed. However, a second test flight was called off shortly before launch last August when engineers spotted a technical problem.
Finally, after more work on the vehicle, the Starliner spacecraft managed to launch for a second time last week, with a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the vehicle into orbit. It then traveled onward and docked with the orbital outpost on Friday, though the process took a little longer than expected.
Astronauts then unloaded about 500 pounds of cargo that the Starliner had brought with it, and loaded it up with other cargo to take back to Earth.
The data from the flight, and the spacecraft itself, will now be fully assessed by engineers. If the mission is deemed a success, the Starliner’s next mission will be a crewed test flight to the ISS, possibly later this year. If that goes to plan, NASA will then have access to another spacecraft — alongside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule — for astronaut missions to and from the space station.
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