Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft will return to Earth on Wednesday after docking at the International Space Station for four and a half days. The return to New Mexico’s White Sands Missile Range concludes an unmanned trial run for the spacecraft, designed for NASA to transport astronauts to and from the space station.
When are the detach and landing events and how can I view them?
Astronauts on the space station closed the hatch to the Starliner capsule on Tuesday after filling it with 600 pounds of cargo to return to Earth.
The spacecraft decoupled on schedule at 2:36 p.m. Eastern Time from the orbiting outpost. Less than 20 minutes later, it was more than 300 feet from station and preparing for its journey back to ground when the side of the Earth facing the sun came into view.
“It was a great stay at Starliner. We’re a little sad to see her go,” said Bob Hines, a NASA astronaut currently aboard the space station, after confirming the takeoff was successful.
The NASA Television live stream will resume at 5:45 PM. Landing is expected at 6:49 PM
What happens during the journey home?
After it leaves the space station, Starliner will align its trajectory with the selected landing site in New Mexico. At 6:05 PM Dutch time, it will fire its thrusters in what is known as the deorbit burn, causing the spacecraft to fall out of orbit.
Once combustion is complete, the service module — the part below the cone-shaped capsule that contains most of the spacecraft’s propulsion and propulsion systems — is discarded. The service module is released into the atmosphere separately and burns up.
The Starliner capsule, meanwhile, will cut through the atmosphere; the compression of air against the stubby bottom will scorch the heat shield to 3000 degrees Fahrenheit.
At an altitude of 28,000 feet, two small parachutes called drogues will be deployed. The three main parachutes will deploy about a minute later.
While Russian and Chinese astronaut transports have long been dropped ashore instead of splashing into the ocean, Starliner is the first US capsule to use that approach. Avoiding salt water would help simplify refurbishing the capsule, which is designed to be used up to 10 times.