The mission of Boeing’s second interplanetary spacecraft to the International Space Station is a moment of success or failure


Now, Boeing is redoing this task. On August 3, Orbital Flight Test 2 or OFT-2 will once again send Starliner to the International Space Station. The company cannot afford another failure.

Greg Autry, a space policy expert at Arizona State University, said: “There is a lot of credibility involved.” “Nothing is more conspicuous than a manned space system.”

The afternoon of July 30th was a stark reminder of this visibility. After Russia’s new 23-ton multi-purpose Nauka module was docked with the International Space Station, it began to accidentally start the thrusters without orders to move the International Space Station away from its normal position in orbit. NASA and Russia solved the problem and stabilized the situation in less than an hour, but we still don’t know what happened and what will happen if the situation gets worse, which is disturbing. The entire incident is still under investigation and forced NASA to postpone the launch of Starliner from July 31 to August 3.

For OFT-2 and any future manned missions, Boeing wants to avoid this near-disastrous situation.

How did Starliner get here

The closure of the space shuttle program in 2011 gave NASA an opportunity to rethink its approach. The agency did not build a new spacecraft specifically designed for low-Earth orbit, but chose to open up opportunities to the private sector as part of the new commercial crew program. It has signed contracts with Boeing and SpaceX to build its own manned aircraft: Starliner and Crew Dragon. NASA will purchase flights for these vehicles and focus on developing new technologies for missions to the moon, Mars and other places.

Both companies have encountered development delays. For nine years, the only way for NASA to enter space was to provide Russia with millions of dollars to buy seats on the Soyuz mission. SpaceX finally sent the astronauts to space in May 2020 (two more manned missions since then), but Boeing is still behind. Its December 2019 flight should have proved that all its systems were working properly and could be docked with the International Space Station and returned to Earth safely.but Internal clock failure As a result, it burned prematurely, making it unable to dock with the International Space Station.

Subsequent investigation revealed that Second fault Will cause Starliner to launch the thrusters at the wrong time when returning to Earth, which may destroy the spacecraft. The malfunction was fixed a few hours before Starliner was ready to go home.Software problems are not unexpected in spacecraft development, but they do exist Boeing could have solved the problem early with better quality control Either Better oversight by NASA.

Boeing has 21 months to resolve these issues. NASA has never requested another Starliner flight test. Boeing chose to redo it and bear the cost of US$410 million on its own.

“I fully hope that the test will be perfect,” Autry said. “These problems involve software systems, and these problems should be easy to solve.”

What’s at stake

If something goes wrong, the consequences will depend on what these things are. If the spacecraft encounters another set of software problems, it may be costly, and it is difficult to see how the relationship between Boeing and NASA will be restored. Catastrophic failures caused by other reasons are also bad, but the space is unstable, and even small problems that are difficult to predict and control can lead to explosive results. This may be more forgivable.

If the new test is unsuccessful, NASA will still work with Boeing, but the re-flight “may take several years,” said Roger Handberg, a space policy expert at the University of Central Florida. “NASA may return to SpaceX for more flights, further detrimental to Boeing.”

Boeing needs OFT-2 to function well, not just for fulfilling its contract with NASA. Neither SpaceX nor Boeing have built new aircraft to perform the International Space Station mission-they both have greater ambitions. “There is a real need [for access to space] from High-net-worth individualsThis has been proven since the early 2000s, when several aircraft were flying on the Russian Soyuz,” Autry said. “Sovereign astronaut teams in many countries are not ready to build their own vehicles. This is also a very powerful Business. “

SpaceX will prove to be very has Private task-its own and Through axiom space——It is already scheduled for the next few years.More will definitely come, especially because axiom, Sierra NevadaAnd other companies plan to build private space stations for paying tourists.

Boeing’s biggest problem is cost. NASA paid the company US$90 million per seat to send astronauts to the International Space Station, while SpaceX paid US$55 million per seat. “NASA can afford them because the agency does not want to rely on a single flight system after a problem with the space shuttle-if it goes down, everything will stop,” Handberg said. But ordinary citizens and other countries may choose cheaper and more experienced options.

Boeing can definitely use some good PR now. It is building the main booster for the US$20 billion space launch system, which will become the most powerful rocket in the world.But the high cost and a lot of delays have Turned it into a lightning rod for criticismAt the same time, alternatives such as SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy and Super Heavy, Blue Origin’s New Glenn and ULA’s Vulcan Centaur have emerged or will debut in the next few years. In 2019, the Inspector General of NASA View potential fraud in the $661 million Boeing contractThe company is one of the main actors of a center Criminal investigation Involves a previous bid for a lunar lander contract.

If Boeing wants to remind people of its capabilities and what it can do for the U.S. space program, it is next week.

“Another failure will leave Boeing so far behind SpaceX that they may have to consider major changes to their approach,” Handberg said. “For Boeing, this is This show. “


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