Crucial moment for Boeing. After a first failure in December 2019, the American aircraft manufacturer will again test the reliability of its Starliner spacecraft. Thursday, May 19, excluding the ultimate technical problem or weather hazard, an Atlas V rocket will take off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying this capsule which will then have to reach the International Space Station (ISS) and dock there.
For this test, no one will be on board. If successful, Starliner will be, from 2023, one of the two American vehicles, with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, to take astronauts to the ISS or bring them back, as NASA decided there is almost eight years, in September 2014.
If, since 2020, the SpaceX taxi has carried out five missions with crews, that of Boeing has only experienced setbacks. During its first test flight, the spacecraft entered the wrong orbit due to a software problem. Unable to reach the ISS. Another scare, just before his return to Earth, a bug affecting the thrusters was detected and narrowly corrected. And it’s not over: in August 2021, a new attempt had to be canceled just before takeoff, following a valve problem on the propulsion system.
The stakes are high for Boeing in the face of a SpaceX that is determined to become essential in the space world and to set the tone. After having imposed itself in less than ten years on the launcher market with its Falcon 9 rocket, the firm of Elon Musk intends to widen the gap in manned flights, for its own ambitions towards the Moon and Mars with its Starship rocket , but also for those of NASA. Thus, as part of its Artemis program aimed at returning to the Moon in 2025, the American agency has selected it to provide the shuttle that will drop astronauts on lunar soil.
NASA also has a project for 2030, the Lunar Gateway, a small international space station evolving in orbit around the Moon, where astronauts will be able to carry out experiments and which, in the distant future, could possibly serve as a station -service to ensure the refueling of shuttles en route to Mars.
After fifty years of absence, this return to the natural satellite of the Earth is all the more important as the United States does not want to give way to the Chinese, Beijing having made the lunar installation a geostrategic issue. Especially since India, Japan and the United Arab Emirates are also interested in it.
Hence the importance, in this new phase of space exploration, of having vessels. If the United States has it, just like China with Tianzhou or Russia and its Soyuz, Europe has none. Thirty years ago, it had planned to build a shuttle, but the Hermès program, deemed too expensive, was quickly abandoned. Since then, the European Space Agency (ESA) has actively participated in various NASA international programs such as the ISS, the Orion spacecraft bound for the Moon, or the Lunar Gateway with contracts signed by ArianeGroup and Thales Alenia Space.
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