Boeing tries to launch its Starliner capsule to the space station again – this is at stake

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft is being rolled out to the launch pad for the OFT-2 mission scheduled to take off on May 19, 2022.

Joel Kowsky | NASA

Boeing is ready to make another attempt to reach the International Space Station with its Starliner capplication Thursday, nearly two and a half years after the company’s first mission failed.

Boeing developed its Starliner spacecraft under NASA’s Commercial Crew program and has won nearly $5 billion in contracts to build the capsule. The company competes under the program against Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which has completed development of its Crew Dragon spacecraft and is now on its fourth operational manned spaceflight for NASA

Boeing’s development of Starliner has encountered several obstacles over the past three years.

The first unmanned mission in December 2019, the Orbital Flight Test (OFT), Terminated prematurely after a software glitch saw the capsule in the wrong orbit† NASA noted earlier this year, after investigating the issue, that Boeing’s software development was “an area where we may not have had as much insight and oversight as we should have.”

Boeing attempted to launch the second orbital test flight, or OFT-2, in August, but the company discovered a problem with the propulsion valve while the spacecraft was still on the ground. Thirteen of the 24 oxidation valves that control Starliner’s movement in space became stuck after humidity at the launch site caused corrosion and the spacecraft’s service module was replaced.

Boeing has now applied sealant to the valves and is scheduled to make another attempt to launch OFT-2 at 6:54 PM ET Thursday.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket will launch Starliner into orbit, where it will embark on a 24-hour journey before docking at the ISS. The mission is expected to last a few days in total before the capsule returns to Earth.

The US Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron predicts conditions for launch will likely be clear, with the potential for disruption from scattered thunderstorms around Florida’s Cape Canaveral. A backup launch time is scheduled for Friday, although the weather forecast will deteriorate significantly by then.

Crucial test from Boeing

Launch Complex-41’s crew access arm swings into position in front of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft ahead of the launch of the OFT-2 mission, scheduled for May 19, 2022.

Joel Kowsky | NASA

The space giant was once seen as equivalent to SpaceX in the race to launch NASA astronauts. Still, delays in Boeing’s Starliner development have steadily reversed, both in planning and financially.

Due to the fixed-price nature of its NASA contract, Boeing took on the cost of additional work on the capsule — $595 million spent by the company so far.

NASA took last year the rare move of reassigning astronauts from Starliner to SpaceXs Crew Dragon† The agency also announced last year that it plans to buy three more crew flights from SpaceX, which would put Musk’s company on track to potentially complete its original NASA contract of six flights before Starliner even gets around to it. once transports a crew.

If Thursday’s OFT-2 launch is successful, Boeing would be preparing for a manned flight test that would see the first astronauts fly on Starliner.

Boeing vice president Mark Nappi said in a pre-launch press conference that the company “could be ready” for the crewed flight “by the end of this year”. Nevertheless, the company is investigating whether it Aerojet Rocketdyne-made flaps on Starliner, which could further delay manned launches.

NASA’s Commercial Crew manager Steve Stich said the agency doesn’t see a redesign of the Starliner valves as a “major problem from a certification perspective.” NASA would work with Boeing to “find out what kind of testing needs to be done” in the event of a redesign, Stich noted, with an undefined schedule for “how long it would take.”

“Personally, I’d love to see Starliner fly past 2030 — I’d love to see Dragon fly past 2030. NASA has invested heavily in both vehicles and they’re great platforms for going to low Earth orbit,” Stich said.

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