All eyes are on Cape Canaveral today as Boeing attempts an uncrewed test of its Starliner capsule. The previous test of the NASA-funded system did not go well, so the aerospace company is under tremendous pressure to succeed. The stage is set, and you can watch this much-anticipated launch live right here.
This is Boeing’s second attempt at Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2), as the prior attempt in 2021 never got off the ground. The company claims to have resolved the valve problem that resulted in the canceled launch. NASA is certainly hoping for a better outcome; the space agency is seeking to add a second option for delivering its astronauts to the ISS—the first option being SpaceX Crew Dragon.
The uncrewed CST-100 Starliner is scheduled to launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at 6:54 p.m. EDT (3:54 p.m. PDT). The rocket will blast off from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Live coverage of the launch will be made available at NASA TV, YouTube, and at Boeing’s Starliner site, but you’re welcome to stay right here and catch the action at the feed provided below. Coverage will begin at 6:00 p.m. EDT (3:00 p.m. PDT).
The weather forecast indicates a 70% chance of favorable conditions for launch. Should the launch be scrubbed, Boeing and ULA will try again tomorrow (May 20) at 6:32 p.m. EDT.
OFT-2 represents a critical step in NASA’s certification of Starliner for its astronauts. To that end, Boeing is hoping to conduct an end-to-end test of the spacecraft’s capabilities, including launch, docking at the International Space Station, atmospheric re-entry, and a parachute-assisted desert landing in White Sands, New Mexico.
During the OFT-1 mission in December 2019, Starliner made it to space but failed to reach the ISS after a software automation glitch caused the spacecraft to burn excess fuel. OFT-2 failed to leave the launch pad in August 2021 because 13 of 24 oxidizer valves in the capsule’s propulsion system failed to open during the countdown. Moisture, it was later determined, crept into the system, causing nitric acid to form. The resulting corrosion caused the valves to get stuck. NASA says the issue “has been closed out” and Boeing has been cycling the valves regularly to ensure proper function.
No crew will participate in OFT-2, but Starliner will have a fake passenger in the form of Rosie the Rocketeer. Boeing’s “anthropometric device” is currently strapped to a Starliner seat, where its 15 sensors will collect data to better understand what actual astronauts will experience during Starliner flights. Rosie is a space veteran, having survived the botched OFT-1 mission.
Should the Atlas V rocket depart Cape Canaveral on schedule, Starliner should arrive at the ISS at 7:10 p.m. EDT (4:10 p.m. EDT) on Friday May 20. The docking will involve a test of the capsule’s vision-based navigation system, which will allow for autonomous docking. An automated abort sequence will also be tested to emulate a docking retreat.
Starliner will deliver 800 pounds of cargo to the ISS, so the test, if successful, will serve a practical purpose. Boeing’s spacecraft will return to Earth five to 10 days after docking, at which time it will bring 600 pounds of cargo back to the surface, including reusable Nitrogen Oxygen Recharge System tanks that provide air to the ISS crew.
A successful test of Starliner would set the stage for a Crew Flight Test, or CFT, in which two yet-to-be named NASA astronauts will participate in the flight. No date has been set for this launch, but it could happen within the calendar year.