Welcome to this week’s installment of The Intelligence Brief… this week, following the successful touchdown of NASA and Boeing’s new CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, we’ll be looking at 1) what the spacecraft’s recent mission completed, and its significance 2) the tests that were conducted during the recent Starliner flight to the International Space Station, and 3) what the response has been, and what vehicles like Starliner may be able to provide to future orbital operations even beyond the ISS.
A Special Note to Our Readers: The Debrief would like to extend our heartfelt condolences to the families of victims of the recent mass shooting at an elementary school in Texas, as well as those affected by similar incidents that have occurred in recent days in New York and other locations. Our hearts go out to those victims and their loved ones in this very difficult time.
Quote of the Week:
Are governments the only entities that can build human spacecraft? No – actually, every human spacecraft ever built for NASA was built by private industry.
As always, you’ll find a complete lineup of stories we’ve been covering in recent days at the end of this newsletter… and with that out of the way, it’s time to turn our attention over to what has NASA and Boeing so excited about the latest landing of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, and what that could mean for the future of science conducted in Earth’s orbit.
Boeing and NASA Celebrate Starliner’s Latest Success
Marking another leap forward in the 21st-century space race, NASA and Boeing welcomed another victory Wednesday with a safe landing of the aerospace giant’s new CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, after it completed its Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) which took it to the International Space Station.
The mission was designed as a test to showcase Starliner’s capabilities for carrying astronauts into orbit, according to a NASA statement.
“About four hours after departing the space station, Starliner touched down onto its airbags at 4:49 p.m. MDT, wrapping up the six-day flight, which tested the end-to-end capabilities of the crew-capable spacecraft,” read the statement.
According to the space agency, the deorbit occurred at 4:05 p.m., followed by separation of the service module from the primary spacecraft, and the deployment of the three primary parachutes, along with six airbags, fully completing each stage of the operation without any significant challenges.
Mission Objectives, and the Future for Starliner
Among the key flight tests underway during Starliner’s recent mission were a host of experimental objectives, which included verification that the craft’s ascent abort emergency detection system was operational. Other tests involved functionality of onboard hatches, crew habitability conditions, docking and deorbit procedures, and the pivotal aero-deceleration system for use during descent and atmospheric entry.
According to a NASA statement, “The Expedition 67 crew aboard the station opened hatches and entered the capsule for the first time, inspecting the spacecraft and verifying integration with power and communications station systems for longer stays in the future.”
Tests weren’t the only purpose of Starliner’s recent mission, however. “The station crew also unloaded 500 pounds of cargo delivered by Starliner and sent 600 pounds of cargo back to Earth,” the NASA statement read.
“A Major Successful Step”
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson addressed the successful mission with his customary enthusiasm, calling the cooperative efforts between the space agency’s Commercial Crew Program and Boeing “a major and successful step on the journey to enabling more human spaceflight missions to the International Space Station on American spacecraft from American soil.”
“The OFT-2 mission represents the power of collaboration, which allows us to innovate for the benefit of humanity and inspire the world through discovery,” Nelson said in a statement. “This golden era of spaceflight wouldn’t be possible without the thousands of individuals who persevered and poured their passion into this great achievement.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by Steve Stich, who manages NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
“I am incredibly proud of the dedication and perseverance shown by the NASA, Boeing and ULA team culminating in the successful completion of Starliner’s second Orbital Flight Test from start to finish,” Stich said following Starliner’s latest success.
Stich emphasized Starliner’s key role in offering what he called “a tremendous amount of valuable data, which we’re continuing to assess in our effort to bring the spacecraft online and fully operational for crew flights to the space station as soon as it is safe to do so.”
Mark Nappi, vice president and program manager of Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program, called the mission “an excellent flight test of a complex system,” adding that Boeing and NASA learned a lot from the successful flight.
“With the completion of OFT-2, we will incorporate lessons learned and continue working to prepare for the crewed flight test and NASA certification.”
Fundamentally, the Starliner OFT-2 system is of key importance on account of hopes that it will soon provide an additional American means of transport for astronauts to the International Space Station for the remainder of its time in use, a role it and other means of conveyance will no doubt continue with its successors.
A critical step in validating the performance of Boeing’s systems, OFT-2 brings the nation a significant step closer to having two unique human transportation systems to carry astronauts to and from the space station from U.S. soil.
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