Two space capsules made headlines in Florida this week, for vastly different reasons

by | Aug 10, 2023

  • Lockheed Martin’s Orion capsule and Boeing’s Starliner, significant aerospace endeavors in a coastal state with historical space ties, have divergent trajectories.
  • Orion’s Artemis II mission targets a late 2024 lunar circumnavigation, propelled by the powerful SLS rocket, while Starliner faces setbacks and media scrutiny due to technical issues.
  • Despite challenges, Boeing says it remains dedicated to resolving Starliner’s problems and upholding its role in America’s space missions.

In a coastal state that has long anchored America’s forays into space, two significant aerospace projects made headlines this week: Lockheed Martin’s Orion capsule and Boeing’s Starliner. Both represent significant national investments in the next generation of space exploration and both hold vast economic potential for Florida, but their journeys have diverged markedly in recent months.

This week, Kennedy Space Center played host to the astronauts of the Artemis II mission, the ambitious endeavor aiming to circumnavigate the moon using Orion in late November 2024. The four-astronaut team, comprising NASA’s Reid Wiseman, Victor Glover, Christina Koch, and Canada’s Jeremy Hansen, visited the Lockheed Martin-manufactured Orion capsule slated for the nine-day lunar voyage.

Though several test rounds lie ahead for Orion and her crew, there are even more tests pending for the powerful Space Launch System rocket, renowned as the mightiest to have ever orbited, that will propel Orion. The SLS rocket successfully completed its maiden uncrewed journey, Artemis I, in November 2022. Artemis II’s moon roundtrip will set the stage for the subsequent lunar landing mission, Artemis III — marking humanity’s lunar return after the Apollo program’s culmination in 1972.

While the Orion capsule awaits further tests, including an integration with a colossal European service module for life support and propulsion, the road ahead – or at least the public relations effort behind it – looks promising.

Contrast that with the relatively bad media coverage surrounding Boeing’s Starliner. While Orion is designed to go to the moon and beyond, Starliner’s mission is supposed to be – at least in theory – a bit simpler. Starliner is Boeing’s low-earth orbit capsule, designed to get astronauts and cargo up to the International Space Station, and back again. But the project confronts an uncertain timeline. Recent concerns have prompted yet another postponed Starliner launch last month. Since then, two primary issues have emerged: a major parachute defect and a discovery that protective tape wrapped around the vehicle’s wiring is flammable.

The issues have led to the scrubbed July launch being delayed until at least next spring.

The setbacks extend a string of delays and problems for the program. Despite the challenges, NASA’s Joel Montalbano reaffirmed Starliner’s significance, emphasizing its pivotal role in ensuring a secondary crew provider.

While Boeing has already incurred significant financial impacts due to Starliner’s delays, pulling out of the program doesn’t seem to be on their agenda. Mark Nappi, Boeing’s vice president, assures a rigorous investigation into the issues. However, the spacecraft’s readiness remains a paramount concern, intertwined with the schedules of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and the traffic to the space station.

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