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Starliner reaches proper orbit despite thruster problems

Unbelievable: During the post-launch press conference last night Boeing officials revealed that, though the final burn to get Boeing’s Starliner capsule into orbit using its own thrusters succeeded, the thrusters did not function as planned.

Boeing Vice President Mark Nappi said a Starliner thruster failed after firing for one second as the spacecraft made a burn to enter orbit after separating from its Atlas V launch vehicle. The flight software switched to a second thruster, which fired for 25 seconds before shutting down prematurely. A third thruster took over and completed the firing, Nappi said.

The thrusters were made by Aerojet Rocketdyne, which also made the valves that did not work in the previous launch attempt in the summer of 2021. Whether the two problems are related is not known at this time.

A NASA official also noted that a cooling unit on the spacecraft operated “sluggishly during ascent,” but began working correctly once in orbit.

Right now NASA and Boeing are planning to proceed with the docking on ISS tonight at 7:10 pm (Eastern). It appears that though two thrusters have failed, they have ten more thrusters that can be used for further maneuvers throughout the mission. Furthermore, these thrusters are not used during the actual rendezvous and docking.

The live stream of the docking goes live at 3:30 pm (Eastern), and is embedded below. Until then enjoy NASA propaganda, some of it might be of interest.

Update: NASA has cut off coverage of the docking on the channel I had embedded previously. I have now embedded an active live feed.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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  • Jay

    I know they are shooting for a manned mission for Starliner sometime at the end of this year, but these problems may delay it to next year. We are only hearing about these two issues, but I am sure there will be a laundry list of small items, and fine tuning of the spacecraft. This is typical of any engineering project.
    During the launch they interviewed Astronauts Barry Wilmore and Michael Fincke. Sunita Williams was at one of the launch stations during the broadcast. One thing that was mentioned is that the manned Starliner flight will have three astronauts: a commander, pilot, and mission specialist. I was surprised to hear there will be a mission specialist. They only had a commander and pilot for the Dragon Demo mission.

  • Shallow Minded Reader

    Mission Specialist = Mechanic riding shotgun.

  • V-Man

    I was wondering why Starliner was equipped with so many engines and thrusters, compared to other designs.

    Now we know. Spares.

  • Andrew_W

    Given the thrusters are proven unreliable the crew would be wise to put on their best faulty spacesuits when the spacecraft is docking.

  • Ray Van Dune

    I’d like to know if any of the Dragon missions have had thruster units fail, and then gone to backups, which also failed? It might have happened, but I don’t recall hearing about it. If indeed this is unprecedented, how can NASA / Boeing justify continuing?

  • Col Beausabre

    ” If indeed this is unprecedented, how can NASA / Boeing justify continuing?”

    You’ll have to check with the Department of Redundancy Department.

  • Jay

    I think the unmanned Dragon 2 had an issue with one or more of it’s RCS thruster(s), but it was compensated for by the others.

    As for Starliner, when I first heard about the failure of the two thrusters, I thought it was just two RCS thrusters as well, but these are the OMACS (I had to look this up TLA on NASA site- Orbital Maneuvering and Attitude Control System). So those four protrusions on the service module are the OMACS, each has three thrusters facing aft, and those were used to get into the final orbit. Two of the three thrusters failed in one OMAC and they shut down the third thruster and the OMAC opposite of that one to balance it. The other two OMACS along with the RCS thrusters compensated for the other two being off.
    Reading more, it looks like they can use two to get by and they will have use those OMACS again for re-entry. So the OMACS have forward thrusters as well, three aft and three forward, for a total of twenty four. They might use the forward ones to help.

    I wish the Boeing Starliner Team the best of luck.

  • Curious if we are approaching the point where we can call the spacecraft operators ‘crew’, rather than astronauts? No one would mistake a weekend pilot out for a jaunt for professional aircrew, and maybe that distinction is being made.

  • Captain Emeritus

    It’s not back on earth (in one piece) yet.

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