The Boeing CST-100 Starliner capsule successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS) at 02h28 South African time on Saturday. Members of the ISS crew opened the Starliner’s hatch at 18h04 South African time, that same day.
This marked the conclusion of the first part of the second uncrewed demonstration flight of the Starliner. The first such flight, in December 2019, failed to achieve a number of key objectives and had to be cut short.
The Starliner is intended, by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa), to be the competitor to SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, under Nasa’s Commercial Crew Transport programme. However, plagued by various glitches, the Starliner is now running about three years behind the Crew Dragon, which is now in routine service.
On this flight, the Starliner carried 800 lbs (about 363 kg) of cargo to the ISS. This was divided into some 500 lbs (about 227 kg) of crew supplies and Nasa cargo and about 300 lbs (some 136 kg) of Boeing cargo. On its return journey, it will carry some 600 lbs (about 272 kg) of cargo.
The Starliner is currently scheduled to remain docked with the ISS until Wednesday (May 25). It will then undock, re-enter the atmosphere and, unusually for an American spacecraft, touch down on the ground (in the western US) and not splash down in the sea.
Should this second uncrewed demonstration flight be successful, it will be followed, in due course, by a crewed demonstration flight.