Starliner Returns to Earth

WHITE SANDS MISSILE TEST RANGE, NEW MEXICO – On a cold, dark Sunday morning, the desert in New Mexico came alive with activity. On Dec. 22, Boeing returned the CST-100 Starliner to Earth after a somewhat successful Orbital Test Flight. While the flight is being claimed as a success, the Starliner suffered a non-nominal orbital insertion making it unable to rendezvous and dock with the ISS, the most visible goal for the public in this flight test.

Starliner after landing, with crews approaching to place and environmental enclosure around the craft. (Image credit: NASA TV screen grab)
Starliner lands after pad abort test Nov. 4, 2019. (Image credit: NASA)

The landing was successfully conducted at 5:58 a.m. Mountain Time. Each stage performed as designed, with the capsule landing at 28 feet per second, or 19 miles per hour. After landing, several teams performed operations to maintain safety of recovery crews before loading the module onto equipment to transport it back to Florida.

Starliner completed 33 orbits of the Earth, during which time full tests of all systems used for crewed flight was accomplished successfully. The propellant system, communications systems, celestial navigation systems, and crew support systems all checked out during the flight. The landing was the final, and most important, test of the Starliner, testing the thermal protection, parachute, and airbag landing systems.

Despite the failure to rendezvous and dock with the ISS, all tests were passed by the vehicle. NASA may confirm all these tests and give Boeing a “Go” for crewed operations with no further testing. However, with the orbital insertion burn failure, there will likely be further testing of the autonomous software systems before the next lunch. There is no word on whether further testing will require another uncrewed launch.

Stay tuned to Next Horizons Spaceflight and Pressing for Flight to get the most up to date information!