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Starliner docks with ISS despite thruster issue

Starliner has docked with the ISS a day after it finally blasted off on its historic first crewed mission.

The docking took place an hour later than planned after as many as five thrusters went offline during the approach.

However, Boeing remained pleased with the overall performance, declaring it was “amazing and humbling” to join the fleet of commercial spacecraft capable of conducting taxi services to and from the space station for NASA.

Starliner was originally due to travel to the ISS a month ago, but a series of issues delayed the blast-off. NASA has a lot riding on its success, given that it is currently only able to send astronauts to space regularly via Starliner rival SpaceX’s Dragon capsule.


“NASA astronauts Barry ‘Butch’ Wilmore and Sunita ‘Suni’ Williams successfully docked Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS), about 26 hours after launching from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station,” said Boeing.

“The astronauts monitored Starliner as it autonomously conducted a series of manoeuvres to steadily bring the spacecraft closer to the orbiting laboratory before docking.

“On the way to the ISS, the crew completed a series of tests, including manually flying Starliner for the first time in space.

“The two Starliner astronauts, who are joining seven others currently living on the station, will assist with various tests and conduct scientific experiments while in space.”


It later emerged space station controllers had to keep Starliner outside its 200-metre “keep out sphere” while they worked to fix the thruster problem.

Eventually, a “hotfire” test reactivated at least four of them, enabling Starliner to make its historic first docking with crew. It’s scheduled to remain connected to the ISS for at least eight days before returning to Earth.

The mission is the final test flight before NASA certifies the vehicle for regular operational missions starting as soon as next year.

Starliner was initially due to blast off to the ISS earlier last month, but the mission was scrubbed at the last minute because of a faulty valve on the rocket’s Centaur upper stage.

A subsequent attempt on 17 May was also repeatedly delayed, this time due to a helium issue. Finally, a third problem was found to be linked to a flange in a thruster in the spacecraft’s service module.

May’s scrubbed launches are the latest in years of issues for Starliner, which Boeing hopes will be able to regularly send US astronauts into space much like SpaceX’s Dragon capsule.

Starliner’s first attempt at an uncrewed flight failed in 2019 due to software glitches, but it eventually docked with the ISS in May 2022.

Adam Thorn

Adam Thorn

Adam is a journalist who has worked for more than 40 prestigious media brands in the UK and Australia. Since 2005, his varied career has included stints as a reporter, copy editor, feature writer and editor for publications as diverse as Fleet Street newspaper The Sunday Times, fashion bible Jones, media and marketing website Mumbrella as well as lifestyle magazines such as GQ, Woman’s Weekly, Men’s Health and Loaded. He joined Momentum Media in early 2020 and currently writes for Australian Aviation and World of Aviation.

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