In 2014, Boeing was awarded a contract through NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program to provide commercial launch services to the International Space Station (ISS). To this end, they have been busy developing the CST-100 Starliner, a space capsule that will be able to deliver cargo and crews of up to 7 astronauts to the ISS. On December 20th, 2019, the Starliner passed a major milestone when it conducted an uncrewed test.
While an error prevented this Starliner (designated Calypso) from docking with the ISS as planned, the space capsule still managed to make it to space and land safely near White Sands, New Mexico. This makes it the first crew capsule to touchdown on land in the United States. To celebrate this accomplishment, Boeing recently released a highlight reel of footage taken by cameras inside the Calypso during the flight test.
The video includes views out the window of the Starliner space capsule as it is launched into orbit aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket. The footage is especially compelling because it shows what crews might have seen had this been an uncrewed test flight. The same views can be expected in the future by astronauts and space tourists using the Starliner to go to space.
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It also contains footage taken from inside the capsule, which featured a test dummy strapped into one of the Starliner’s seats and a Snoopy doll dressed an astronaut. While the test dummy shows some mild vibrations, which registered on the sensors embedded in it, the Snoopy doll began to float as soon as the Atlas V’s upper stage enginers cut out.
The video also captured the outcome of the anomaly that caused the Starliner to miss its planned orbit insertion burn – which meant it was unable to make its rendezvous with the ISS and had to return to Earth. This was known as an “elapsed timing error”, which caused the Starliner‘s thrusters to experience an intense period of thruster activity that burned through much of the spacecraft’s fuel.
The highlight reel concludes with footage showing how the spacecraft forming a hot plasma tail as it reentered Earth’s atmosphere on December 22nd above White Sands, New Mexico. This was followed by the deployment of the spacecraft’s four main chutes and the spacecraft achieving touchdown with a bit of a thump.
All of this was caught on cameras positioned inside the Starliner’s cabin, which crews retrieved afterward to gauge how it faired throughout the test. As indicated by the footage, the Starliner performed well within established safety parameters and proved itself to be spaceworthy. As for the timing error… well, that’s why test flights happen. Once the bugs are ironed out, we can expect that Boeing will attempt another rendezvous with the ISS.
Barring any errors then, the Starliner is sure to be sending astronauts to space from US soil in the very near future. Check out the highlight reel below:
Further Reading: Spaceflight Now