Boeing's Starliner astronaut taxi spotted at ISS (satellite photo)

closeup view of a white space capsule docked to the international space station
Boeing's Starliner capsule is seen docked to the International Space Station in this zoomed-in view of an image captured by Maxar Technologies' WorldView-3 satellite on June 7, 2024. (Image credit: Maxar Technologies)

An Earth-observing satellite has given us a unique view of Boeing's new Starliner astronaut taxi in space.

Starliner arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) on June 6, delivering NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams to the orbiting lab on a shakeout cruise known as Crew Flight Test (CFT).

A day later, Maxar Technologies' WorldView-3 satellite snapped a striking photo of the ISS and its new arrival, which is prominently featured near the center of the frame. 

The full, non-zoomed photo of the ISS and Starliner snapped by WorldView-3 on June 7. (Image credit: NASA)

WorldView-3, which launched in August 2014, usually observes Earth from its vantage point 385 miles (620 kilometers) above our planet. But the new photo shows that the spacecraft can study objects in orbit as well.

"This type of imagery collection, known as non-Earth imaging (NEI), is a breakthrough capability that enables Maxar to support critical space domain awareness missions for government and commercial customers," Maxar wrote in an X post on Wednesday (June 12) that featured the ISS-Starliner photo.

Non-Earth imaging could become a higher and higher priority for the U.S. government and other entities with a large stake in the final frontier over the coming years.

The number of satellites going to orbit has jumped dramatically recently and will likely continue to grow, largely due to the rise of megaconstellations such as SpaceX's Starlink broadband network, which currently consists of more than 6,000 active spacecraft. Keeping tabs on this ever-growing orbital population will likely become increasingly important, and increasingly challenging, for satellite operators.

CFT is the first-ever crewed mission for Starliner, which is scheduled to come back to Earth no earlier than June 18. If all goes well on the mission, the capsule will be certified to fly long-duration astronaut missions to and from the ISS for NASA.

SpaceX already does this with its Crew Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket. Elon Musk's company is in the middle of its eighth operational astronaut flight to the ISS, known as Crew-8.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.