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Boeing Starliner completes Orbital Flight Test-2 with safe touchdown

May 25, 2022

— Boeing's Starliner spacecraft has made its second landing from space, completing its first successful mission to the International Space Station.

The commercial crew capsule touched down on Wednesday (May 25), ending its second uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT-2). The spacecraft descended under parachutes to an airbag-cushioned landing at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico at 6:49 p.m. EDT (2249 GMT or 5:49 p.m. local).

Boeing recovery crews were staged nearby to safe and secure the spacecraft.

The CST-100 Starliner's return to Earth began with its undocking from the space station four hours earlier on Wednesday. The capsule separated and backed away from the forward facing port on the Harmony node at 2:36 p.m. EDT (1836 GMT).

The departure ended 4 days, 18 hours and 8 minutes of docked operations.


Starliner's Orbital Flight Test-2 landing. Click to enlarge video in new pop-up window. (Boeing)

"It is a privilege to be here at the end of our Starliner operations and to have this opportunity to bid the Starliner farewell as it returns to Earth," Kjell Lindgren, a NASA astronaut and flight engineer on the space station's Expedition 67 crew, said during a brief farewell ceremony on Tuesday. "What a privilege again to be among the first to enter this brand new spacecraft that very soon will be carrying our colleagues to and from the space station during future missions."

While the Starliner was docked, several tests were performed, including audio checkouts between the spacecraft and the space station, NASA's Mission Control Center in Houston and Boeing's Mission Control Center in Florida; connecting the station's portable computer system to Starliner; and recharging the capsule's batteries using power from the space station.

The Expedition 67 crew also unpacked the food and other NASA provisions that the Starliner brought with it to the station and then repacked the spacecraft with spent equipment to be discarded or serviced on the ground. Among the items heading back to Earth were reusable tanks used to provide breathable air for the station's crew, an anthropometric test device named "Rosie the Rocketeer" after the World War II cultural icon and mementos to be given out to Boeing's partners on the mission, including flags for 14 historically black colleges and universities.

One special item being left behind was highlighted by NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins.

"One really special item that came up with the Starliner was this American flag," said Watkins while displaying the folded-up, full-size flag on camera. "This American flag was given to the Boeing team at the beginning of the commercial crew program when this all started, and this flag will remain up here on the International Space Station until our CFT [Crew Flight Test] colleagues come up to the ISS and are able to return with it."

"It will be a reminder to us of the pride that we all share and the notion that we are all part of one team with one goal and one mission and that it requires a team of people from all different backgrounds and expertise to come together," she said. "So we are so grateful for this token and so excited for our colleagues to come up and retrieve it."

NASA officials said that decisions about the launch date, mission duration and crew assignments for the CFT flight will be made this summer after the results of this orbital flight test have been understood.

"We know we will have learning out of this mission, and then lay that into our plans and our schedule with the Boeing folks," said Kathy Lueders, NASA associate administrator for space operations.

The OFT-2 Starliner dropped out of orbit at 6:05 p.m. EDT (2205 GMT) by firing its orbital maneuvering and attitude control (OMAC) thrusters for a 58-second deorbit burn. That was soon followed by the jettison of the service module, which was left to burn up during its own reentry into Earth's atmosphere.

Plunging toward the ground, the Starliner next jettisoned its forward heat shield, clearing the way for the deployment of drogue and then main parachutes to slow its fall. Finally, just minutes before landing, the capsule shed its base heat shield, exposing and inflating airbags to cushion the touchdown.

Although the OFT-2 Starliner experienced some problems during its six-day flight, including four failed thrusters and a sluggish cooling system, the mission was Boeing's first to meet all four major objectives as laid out for an uncrewed orbital flight test. Unlike on OFT-1, which was cut short by software issues in 2019, the OFT-2 Starliner launched into orbit, completed a rendezvous and docking with the space station, undocked and safety landed back on Earth.

 


Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft lands at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, completing its second orbital flight test. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)



Boeing's OFT-2 CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is seen over the trunk of SpaceX's Crew Dragon Freedom as it backs away from the International Space Station, Wednesday, May 25, 2022. (NASA TV)



NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins, joined by her Expedition 67 crew mates Bob Hines, Kjell Lindgren and Samantha Cristoforetti, show the American flag that will await the Starliner CFT crew. (NASA TV)



Boeing's Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission patch represents the team dedicated to making the 2022 launch a success. (Boeing)



Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is seen after it landed at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico on May 25, 2022. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

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