Boeing Starliner Successfully Launched to Orbit But Two or Twelve Thrusters Have Failed

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is in orbit, heading for the International Space Station following launch Thursday of the next-generation spacecraft on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket on a mission designed to test the end-to-end capabilities of the crew-capable system as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

The Starliner has propulsion troubles early in its journey, with two thrusters responsible for orbital maneuvering failing for unclear reasons.

At a post-launch press conference, senior NASA official Steve Sitch said: “Overall, the spacecraft is doing really well,” but he also flagged two anomalies that engineers were now working to understand.

1. Two out of 12 orbital maneuvering and attitude control (OMAC) thrusters located on Starliner’s aft side had initially fired but then shut down, forcing a third to take up their slack.

2. A device known as a sublimator responsible for cooling the spacecraft was initially slow to get started.

Angry Astronaut makes the case that it would be safer and more prudent to have Starliner hang out 2000 meters away from the ISS until they can investigate the failed thruster. There are astronauts on the ISS. There is a lot of pressure to get Starliner in and certified after years of failures and delays. It is very likely that nothing happens with the two failed thrusters but we do not know why they failed. If there was a problem while Starliner is docked to the ISS then the crew could be put at risk and the ISS station could be put at risk.

NASA is looking to certify Starliner as a second “taxi” service for its astronauts to the space station — a role that Elon Musk’s SpaceX has provided since succeeding in a test mission for its Dragon capsule in 2020.

Boeing and SpaceX were awarded fixed-price contracts — $4.2 billion to Boeing, and $2.6 billion to SpaceX — in 2014, shortly after the end of the Space Shuttle program, during a time when the United States was left reliant on Russian Soyuz rockets for rides to the orbital outpost.