Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft will one day attempt to reach the International Space Station in a critical test flight that will determine whether it is finally ready for manned missions. NASA and the private space company have scheduled the launch for today, May 19, with an immediate launch window at 6:54 p.m. Eastern Time. The Starliner launches atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, and you can watch coverage of the event in the video below or via the NASA Live website starting at 6 p.m. ET.
During its first test flight in December 2019, Starliner entered orbit, but failed to reach the ISS. An automation system misjudged the timing of the flight and prevented the spacecraft’s thrusters from firing when needed. NASA and the company investigated what had happened, and a few months later reports came that Boeing did not run simulations from launch to docking on the spacecraft before the launch failed.
Boeing made its first Orbital Flight Test-2 launch attempt in August 2021, but it had to scrap its plans while the capsule was already atop a rocket due to a problem with the propulsion system’s valves. Engineers managed to repair nine valves while the spacecraft was still ready to take off, but Boeing eventually decided to conduct “deeper troubleshooting” at its facility at the Kennedy Space Center. NASA had to give SpaceX more manned flights to make up for Boeing’s delays.
Now that the problems with the valves have been solved – apparently the interaction between oxidizer and water has formed nitric acid and other corrosives that made the valves sticky – Starliner is launched. The capsule must reach its target this time if Boeing wants to catch up with SpaceX, which has been taking astronauts to the ISS since 2020. If no more problems arise, Starliner will reach the ISS with more than 800 pounds of cargo in 24 hours. It will remain docked in the orbiting lab for five to 10 days before making its return journey to Earth and landing in the western United States.
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