Boeing’s Starliner space capsule returned to Earth on Wednesday after docking successfully at the International Space Station in a much-needed victory for the aerospace group as it contends with an array of production delays.
Starliner was launched last Thursday atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and docked at the ISS the next day. It returned to the US Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, floating down by parachute.
This was the second orbital test flight for the capsule, which was sent to space unmanned. The first test took place more than two years ago and was unsuccessful owing to software issues. Boeing had planned a second test for last year, but it was called off.
Development of the space capsule has cost Boeing $595mn since 2019. The Chicago-based company agreed to a fixed-term development contract with Nasa, meaning Boeing must cover any cost overruns.
The group has faced production and delivery challenges within both its commercial and defence divisions, leading to billions in charges over several years and calls from customers to adopt a “fresh vision”.
“When Starliner completes its next flight, Boeing will have fulfilled Nasa’s goal of having two commercial vehicles to transport astronauts,” Boeing said in a statement. The other spacecraft is SpaceX’s Crew Dragon.
“We will incorporate lessons learned and continue working to prepare for the crewed flight test and Nasa certification,” said Mark Nappi, manager of the Boeing Commercial Crew Program.
On this test flight, Starliner took 800 pounds of cargo and crew supplies from both Nasa and Boeing, and brought back 600 pounds.