If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again to send your spacecraft back into orbit to dock with the International Space Station. On July 30, Boeing is set to relaunch its Starliner crew capsule (minus any humans on board) for a second attempt at reaching the ISS, after its first try in late 2019 failed to reach the station.
Software defects and a communications link problem led to a premature end to the original test flight, though the CST-100 Starliner capsule landed safely back on Earth. The upcoming Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission is a chance for Boeing to thoroughly vet its hardware and software before a crew flies on Starliner.
Both Boeing and SpaceX are part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which is all about sending astronauts to the ISS from American soil. SpaceX has now delivered 10 astronauts to the ISS, and Boeing would like to catch up. First, it’ll need to show that its Starliner can safely reach the ISS and then return to Earth.
NASA will livestream the launch on Friday, July 30, with coverage starting at 11 a.m. PT. The launch time is targeted for 11:53 a.m. PT.
Starliner will lift off on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The capsule will be packed with crew supplies and cargo destined for the ISS. If all goes well, it’ll dock to the ISS, get unloaded by the station crew and be repacked with research samples to return to Earth.
Boeing will aim to bring Starliner back for a gentle parachute landing in a desert area of New Mexico.
“OFT-2 will provide valuable data that will help NASA certify Boeing’s crew transportation system to carry astronauts to and from the space station,” NASA said in a statement on Thursday after successfully concluding a flight readiness review.
The mission is a key step for NASA’s plans to run regular crewed launches from the US, ending its reliance on Russian spacecraft. If all goes well, SpaceX may soon have company when it comes to carrying NASA astronauts from Florida to orbit.